Vort from the Rav: Nitzavim-Vayeilekh

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Devarim 30:12

לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא

It is not in heaven

Halachic Man does not stand and waits for the revelation of the truth and inspiration by the spirit. He does not search out transcendental, ecstatic paroxysms, frenzied experiences that whisper intimations of another world into his ears. He does not require any miracles or wonders in order to understand the Torah. He approaches the world of halachah with his mind and intellect, just as cognitive man approaches the natural realm. And since he relies upon his intellect, he places his trust in it and does not suppress any of his psychic faculties in order to merge into some supernal existence. His own personal understanding can resolve the most difficult and complex problems. He is not particularly submissive and retiring, and is not meek when it is a matter of maintaining his own views. His most characteristic feature is strength of mind. He does battle for every jot and tittle of the halachah, not only motivated by a deep piety but also by a passionate love of the truth. (Halakhic Man, pp. 78-79)

The Gemara in Eruvin 55a  interprets this phrase to mean that Torah is not to be found among the arrogant (Eruvin 55a). Humility is the conditio sine qua non of learning. A pupil should never be ashamed to ask a question even if this might lead to ridicule. The humility that qualifies one for the role of pupil is never terminated. To be a pupil is an infinite task; in it is expressed the great ethical norm of incessant ascent, of perennial progress and advancement. Humil­ity means awareness of ignorance, the need for self-criticism, sincer­ity, frankness, disregard of public opinion and the eternal quest for the ontic root of one’s existence.

One must recognize the authority of the teacher. Learn­ing, besides its intellectual aspect, is a volitional-emotional gesture. One must be determined to benefit by one’s association with one’s teacher or master. If this determination is miss­ing, intellectual brilliance is of no avail. One must surrender to one’s teacher on an ontic level. One should feel inferior to him and be aware of one’s dependence upon him. This feeling of dependence is akin to that absolute surrender and fas­cination which man experiences in his relationship to God. The pupil sees his existence rooted in that of his master; he clings to him as the flowers to the sunbeam. To be in the presence of the master is a joy which borders on rhapsody. To be away from him is anguish. The pupil is always lonesome for his master and driven by an irresistible passion to him. Yet, in spite of the pupil’s flight to the master, he can never come too close to him. Reverence for him precludes any intimacy between pupil and master. The halachah, cautious and reserved, has compared fear of God with reverence for a teacher (Pesachim 21b). (Halakhic Morality, pp. 117-119)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav’s Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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