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For the week ending 27 June 2015 / 10 Tammuz 5775

Value of Torah

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

From: Eric

Dear Rabbi,

We are taught that the value of Torah exceeds everything. In general, I feel that I do value Torah. But it’s hard for me to gauge what that means practically and how I might actually express that. Does it mean that I should be willing to live in poverty, or suffer sickness or even give up my life for Torah? How can I come to grips with this for myself?

Dear Eric,

There are many, many teachings which all extol the great value of Torah, and dedicating ourselves to its study. It is valued above any worldly riches, and we are to pursue its wealth day and night for our entire lives.

And yes, countless Jews over time have sacrificed worldly health, wealth and even their lives out of love and commitment to the Torah. Their burning passion for the Torah and G-d is truly inspiring and worthy of emulation.

Yet, the truth is, for many complicated reasons, most people nowadays are not infused with the same consuming dedication that would impel them to make the same sacrifices as would be made by most Jews in most places for most of Jewish history.

That being said, the reasons why we are much less impassioned are the same reasons which make believing and living according to the Torah much more difficult nowadays than it has been for most of Jewish history. This means that our maintaining even a lower standard of commitment might involve a relatively equal degree of sacrifice on our part as was demonstrated in earlier times.

Therefore, it is not constructive to gauge your commitment based on the degree of suffering you would be willing to endure on behalf of the Torah. Rather, most people should be trying to attain and preserve wealth, health and life in order to ensure the continuity of Torah and its transmission to future generations.

Within the context of normal, modern life there are plenty of opportunities to demonstrate our commitment by refraining from transgressing despite rampant enticements to the contrary – and just keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, maintaining modesty, making consistent effort to learn Torah and many of the other basic observances is challenging enough, even in the context of prosperity and health.

I was recently told a true story which might be indicative of how we may express our value for Torah even though we are not called upon to make the same sacrifices as in previous generations:

A young man at our yeshiva went on an outing with a friend, taking with him a pack with his belongings. Despite having considered taking his notebooks with his Torah notes which he thought he’d review with his friend on the trip, at the last moment he decided not to. Ultimately, his pack was stolen, together with his wallet, money, credit cards, expensive camera equipment and other valuables, which all totaled several thousand dollars.

He relayed to me in all sincerity and completely whole-heartedly that the first thing he thought when he realized his pack had been stolen was, “Thank G-d my Torah notes were not in the pack. Everything else is only of monetary value and can be replaced. But my Torah notes are priceless and irreplaceable!”

This means that on the spot, immediately and intuitively, with unshaken conviction and clarity, he valued his Torah to be undoubtedly worth more than thousands of dollars – indeed invaluable!

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