Sunday, June 03, 2007

The message of the חטא המרגלים

This is something I posted 2 years ago which I think is worth reposting.

The story of the מרגלים is a troubling story. You have the leaders of the Jewish people, tzadikim, suddenly do a terrible sin, why?

One approach is as follows. The leaders made the following calculation. Things were good in the midbar. They had a spiritual life with no effort. Manna came down from heaven every morning. If they had a question they asked Moshe who asked Hashem. In short, spirituality was handed to them on a silver platter. On the other hand they realized that in Israel life would change radically. They would not live a life of nissim, manna would not fall from heaven. They would have to work hard to retain their spiritually. If they had a question in Torah they would have to figure out the answer.

Based on the above, the meraglim decided life was better in the midbar and therefore did what they did.

What was their sin? They didn't want to work hard at their spirituality. They wanted everything handed to them on a silver platter.

This message is especially relevant nowadays in the executive summary/fast food society of ours. No one has time to work hard on something, everyone wants everything to come easy. No one wants to sit and sweat over pshat in a gemara, they want it spoon fed to them. This is one of the reasons why there is such a proliferation of (kitzur)handbook sefarim, people are not willing to put in the effort to learn the sources. this is why the Artscroll gemaras have become so popular, they make learning gemara easy.

I would like to go a bit further with this. Learning torah is different then learning any other discipline. Other subjects, what is paramount is that you obtain the knowledge, how you get there is irrelevant. The bottom line is what do you know. In torah this is not true. In torah, how you get there is more important then what you know. The act of learning torah is the mitzva. If someone could magically impress on your brain all of torah, that would be nice, but you would get no mitzva for that. The Mitzva is to learn it yourself. Hashem wants us to be עמלים (work hard) in Torah. Nowadays, we have lost this. People would rather take it easy with an Artcsroll gemara then break their head to understand the sugya.

After 120 years a person will not be asked what they know, but, did you fulfill your potential. There may be a guy who knew all of Shas because he was a genius, but his potential was that he could have been another Vilna Gaon. In this world he was very respected guy he knew Shas, however his potential was so much greater. On the other hand there may be an average guy who fulfilled his potential but never even really knew shas. In this world he was basically ignored, he worked hard at learning but was not that successful. But, he fulfilled his potential. Who do you think will get the bigger reward in the next world.? This is what the gemara means when it says עולם הפוך. In torah learning effort not results is what ultimately counts.

Some people will misinterpret this to mean that I am saying a person can sit and learn all day and know nothing. Absolutely not. What I am saying is that a person is judged by his potential, every person needs to maxmize it. It is amazing to see what an average person can do if they really push themselves (more about this in upcoming posts), but the average person will not become the Godol Hador and in shamayim no one will ask him why he wasn't the godol hador.

One of the good things about my commute to work is that it gives me time to think. Many times, in the morning I learn a piece of gemara with my chavrusa and something bothers us. On the way to work for an hour I think about it, I think about the question, possible answers, etc. and many times after an hour or 2 I will either have an answer or at least a better understanding of why it is really a question. The only way to come up with a chiddush is to sit and think. Unfortunately most people never really think in learning. They run right away to look in some sefer for an answer.

The proliferation of sefarim is both a blessing and a curse. For many, it makes life too easy, they never have to think about what is a question and what is an answer, Artscroll (or some other sefer) spoon feeds it to them.

Don't get me wrong, Artscroll and other aids have their place. They have allowed many people who couldn't learn gemara without it learn. The problem is that they allow many other people who could learn gemara if they worked hard at it be lazy and not push themselves.

Every person has to evaluate their situation and balance where they are to understand how they should go about learning.

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