On today’s daf we find that Rabbi Akiva asked Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua a halachic question while they were in the market purchasing an animal for Rabban Gamliel’s son’s wedding. This is the way of gedolei Torah. Even while on their way to a simchah, they only think about Torah.
Rav Eliezer Gordon, zt”l, the first Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, was just such a person. The tales regarding his absolute devotion to Torah even during the most unusual times are astounding.
Rav Gordon was a person who had such a deep-felt ahavas haTorah that he would think in learning at every available moment. While he walked down the street and while he was apparently in repose, he was always immersed in a sugya.
Once, when Rav Gordon was on his way to serve as sandek at a bris milah, he passed by a shul and heard two bochurim discussing a certain difficult question in learning. Rav Gordon immediately forgot everything. He stopped in front of the window and, while standing outside, began to discuss this complex question in depth. He attempted to answer it and the bochurim debated various suggestions he proposed that might resolve the problem.
Two hours later, the guests at the bris were still waiting, but the rav had not yet come. Finally they found an acceptable answer and Rav Gordon continued on his way. Then he remembered that he was supposed to be sandek at a local bris.
When he arrived he apologized and explained what had happened. “Regarding Torah I am like a drunk near a bottle of wine who cannot think of anything else!”
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Intoxicated by Torah”
I know. It sounds kind of irresponsible to me, too. If I have an appointment and people are expecting me, especially for an important event, I really try to be on time and often, I’m a little early. So how can we explain Rav Gordon?
At the threshold of liberation, darkness filled the land of Egypt. But in the homes of those to be liberated, there was only light.
Light is our true place, and light is the destiny of every child of Noah who nurtures the G-dly beauty of this world. As dawn approaches and Darkness shakes heaven and earth in the final throes of its demise, those who belong to Light and cleave to it with all their hearts have nothing to fear.
For darkness is created to die, but light is forever.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Imagine being filled with light all of the time. You can’t really help it. God is not only on your thoughts and affecting your emotions, but His very Word is interwoven into your flesh and bone. It has invaded your blood stream and is coursing through your veins and arteries like life-giving corpuscles. The light of His Word creates the electrical impulses that leap at lightning-fast speeds across the gap between the synapses in your brain. And all that light within you is inexorably drawn to other light just like it…and you cannot help but run the other’s light, so you can join the light within and the light without.
Or he could have just been one of those people who lose track of time when caught up in a compelling intellectual argument.
Where is the balance between the holy and the secular? It is said that Hillel the Elder, the great Torah sage who lived a generation before Jesus, devoted his life to Torah study while also working as a woodcutter. (Hertz J.H. 1936 The Pentateuch and Haftoras. Deuteronomy. Oxford University Press, London.) Certainly Hillel knew the meaning of balance in his life.
And then there’s this:
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. –2 Thessalonians 3:6-8 (ESV)
I can’t find the source, but I recall reading that it is considered a sin if you study Torah to the exclusion of all other responsibilities, such as feeding your family, and meeting your other worldly obligations.
I can’t lay all of that at Rav Gordon’s feet. After all, he was only distracted for a couple of hours and perhaps justifiably so. I’m in no position to judge.
To tell you the truth, it’s far more common for people to allow the demands of their day-to-day secular life to distract them from their duty to study the Bible, to meditate upon God, to pray, to show devotion on the Shabbat. It is far more common to be lured off of the path to God by your daily grind, than to be late for work because you were praying or studying.
God understands that we have a daily life and indeed, he requires that we do have an “ordinary” job so that we, like Paul, can support ourselves and not be a burden to others. All of the great Torah scholars had some means by which they supported themselves, as did the Prophets, and as did the Apostles. Part of a whole life is not only sharing it with God and joining with that light, but allowing the light to shine into the rest of your world. God is in the act of commuting to work, in sitting at a computer keyboard, in picking your children up from school, in mowing the lawn, in paying your taxes, in taking out the garbage.
And He’s in being immersed in a sugya and in joining two bochurim discussing a certain difficult question.
There’s a passion that must be part of who we are as people if we are to overwhelm the oppressive demands of a human experience with the light of God. In Judaism, each soul is considered to be a shard or a spark of the Divine Light of God, come to earth to inhabit a person. The spark yearns to return to its Source but the flesh chains the holy shard to earth. The bird is caged and cannot fly. If you remove freedom from the bird long enough, it forgets how to fly, and pines for its lost freedom. The notes of its song sour and it loses its way back to the Source, perhaps forever.
So too is the soul within us that is cut off too long from its Source. Humanity is an anchor that drags us to the floor of an impenetrably deep sea. This is the opposite of Rav Gordon and his drive to seek out perpetual light perpetually. But if we pray, if we meditate, if we study the Bible, if we associate, even occasionally, with others who have the same drive and light, if we allow the Word to weave its way through us, the bird is not kept in total darkness and it is allowed to spread its wings. It has a song to sing, even while caged within its flesh and blood prison.
The bird has hope, not only that someday it will return to the Source, but that in the here and now, there is a light within that shines, and a light without to follow.
Someday we will be free.