Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Back from the sea, zeal renewed, strength restored…

In Maharal, Netiv Torah, Ta'anit on June 19, 2009 at 7:04 pm

And still scorchin’. After this short break, I realize what a gift teaching is. There I was, sitting outside with my laptop near Rehoboth Beach, but actually next to a small bay on the other side of the ocean. It was time for my Maharal class given on the Web through webyeshiva.org. My students who appear from California to Poland on my screen through their webcams are ready for Torah from רחובות.

The Maharal opens the second chapter of Netiv Torah (The Pathway to Torah) with a Talmudic passage from the Tractate of Ta’anit (Fasting).

Why is the Torah likened to water? As it is written, ‘Let all who are thirsty come to the water.’ (Isaiah 55:1)

Just as water from a high place always seeks out a low place, so too, Torah is only maintained in one who’s awareness [of self] is lowly. (Ta’anit 4a)

The Maharal explains that Torah is pure intellect and has no connection to the material world. Therefore, in order to receive Torah, one must be in a state of humility. Humility is what the modern Hasidic masters would call the Bitul Hayesh, the nullification of self. The opposite of which is Gasut Ruach (grossness of spirit, arrogance). Arrogance is the most material, and the crassest of all qualities. Why the most material? Because of its emphasis on size, on being bigger, and being the best. By definition, the arrogant are subjected to the realm of form and matter, and that is their limitation. No matter how big you are, you are only that size and no more.

The humble, however, by nullifying self as much as possible, have forfeited the realm of size, for something a tad more than nothing. Thus paradoxically, they have no limitation. Like water, the humble have transcended size by going to the low place, and therefore are capable of receiving and maintaining the Torah.

Rabbi Yehoshua Bar Chanina was speaking to the daughter of Caesar. She observed, “What magnificent wisdom contained in such an ugly container!”

Rabbi Yehoshua asked, “In what kind of vessels does the Caesar keep his wine?” “In vessels of earthenware,” she replied. “People as important as you keep wine in vessels so common?” He queried. “What should we keep them in?” she asked. “In vessels of gold and silver”, he answered. She did as he suggested and the wine turned to vinegar.

The Caesar asked her, “Who told you to do this?” “Rabbi Chanina did”, she said. The Caesar asked Rabbi Chanina, “Why did you tell my daughter to do this?”

Rabbi Chanina replied, “Just as she told me, so I told her. (Ibid)

The Gemara wonders whether it is possible for the handsome to learn? The answer is that they can, but if those who were handsome were less good looking they would have learned more.

This story demonstrates that the most precious of liquids is only preserved in the humblest of vessels. Torah, like these liquids, require the utmost care in order to be preserved. That care requires all who wish to receive it to be self-ignored and Torah absorbed.

A vacation isn’t a vacation without a little learning!

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