Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Power Of Torah To Transform One's Capacity For Pleasure

לע"נ סבי אלכסנדר זושא ב"ר יוסף 
יום השנה לפטירתו י"ד אב

There is an interesting halacha about learning Torah. When one is deciding what to learn he should choose what his heart desires most. If he likes Menachos he should learn Menachos but if he prefers Brachos he should go there. We don't find this halacha elsewhere. If there are two sick people to visit one will visit whichever one he prefers but that is not a halacha but his choice. There is an actual HALACHA that one should learn what he desires most. What is the root of this difference between Talmud Torah and other mitzvos?

There is a fundamental difference between how the senses work and how the brain works. All of the senses work independently of the pleasure they derive, while for the brain, pleasure is part and parcel of cognitive ability and comprehension. For example, one sees whether or not he enjoys what he is looking at. The pleasure he may derive is distinct from the actual sense of sight. The same goes for hearing and the other senses. When it comes to intellectual comprehension it is different. If one does not derive pleasure, he won't understand. Let us say that someone is explaining something to you that you couldn't care less about. Your brain switches off. You just don't get it because you DON'T CARE. No pleasure - no comprehension. When someone explains something to you that you REALLY care about, your pleasure at understanding is increased and together with that so is your understanding itself. If you are about to invest a million dollars and promised a return of 60 percent within 3 years then you REALLY GET the explanation of the details because you are really interested and derive pleasure. If you like a girl [or girl likes boy] and she explains to you something about herself which will help you win her heart, then you will understand with great pleasure and depth. 

That is why we make a bracha of והערב נא - Torah should be sweet, that we don't find regarding any other mitzva. With respect to Torah - the sweetness is part and parcel of the mitzva. If you LOVE learning parsha with Ohr Hachaim, then you will have great pleasure at understanding his words and with that you will understand more clearly. That explains why one must learn what his heart desires. The more pleasure you get - the better you will comprehend. 


The pasuk in Bereishis tells us that man should rule over the animal kingdom - ורדו בדגת הים ובעוף   השמים ובכל חיה הרומשת על הארץ. This also means that the most human part of man - his intellect - should rule over the more animal like middos [animals have middos too] of his being. Torah must guide us in the way we act.

Chazal give us two different descriptions of the power of Torah. One is that תורה מביאה לידי זהירות - Torah brings us to be careful about the way we act. It also says that המאור שבתורה מחזיר למוטב - the light of Torah brings one back to goodness. What is the difference?

The first teaching תורה מביאה לידי זהירות teaches us that the Torah that one comprehends has the awesome power to change our behavior. Torah can turn all of our actions into holy actions. The second teaching is on a much higher plane. It teaches that Torah has the capacity to transform our כוח התענוג from deriving pleasure from mundane things to deriving pleasure from kedusha! The expression is המאור - the light. "Light" denotes pleasure. When a person is feeling pleasure - a chosson at his wedding, a parent whose child gives him nachas - his face lights up. Conversely, when a person is feeling pain - you can see it on his face. המאור שבתורה - The light of Torah can bring a person back to Hasehm by making his pleasure of choice - spiritual pleasure. The light of Torah activates a persons pleasure centers to appreciate the "real deal" of spiritual delights. 

The Rambam asks what the pathway to love of Hashem is. His answer  - appreciate nature and you will come to love Hashem. Chazal say in the Sifri - באיזה צד אוהבים את המקום? - That means, how does one come to a place where his pleasures are spiritual? What gives you pleasure you love. Their answer: Torah. Torah has the power to make your joys and pleasure those of the spiritual type.

What is the source of this reality? When Hashem gave the Torah, Chazal say that He removed the mechitza between the upper and lower worlds. This is expressed in the ability of our Chachomim to decide on Torah law. Torah was given על דעתם [with their opinions in mind] as the Ramban says. This also finds expression in the human psyche. After the giving of the Torah there is no longer a mechitza between our intellect and our actions and the light of Torah impacts all we do. המאור שבה מחזיר למוטב!!

The pasuk says וגם עבדך נזהר בהם בשמרם עקב רב -  Also your servant was careful in them [the mitzvos] for in keeping them there is great reward. Chazal say on the pasuk בשמרם עקב רב that this refers to the "light" mitzvos that people trample with the soul of their feet [עקב]. When one learns Torah with great pleasure, he becomes vigilant about even those mitzvos that the intellect doesn't take as seriously because the intellect is focused on the more stringent mitzvos and views them as beneath its purview. The light and pleasure of Torah brings one to be careful even about the less stringent mitzvos not from a place of intellect but from a hidden place in the soul. Chazal say that in the merit of keeping the light mitzvos, one receives a hidden reward of מה רב טובך אשר צפנת ליראיך - How great is the reward that you hid for those who fear you. 


A 20 MILLION DOLLAR TORAH - AT LEAST!!! Make checks payable to the salvation army or the ASPCA. 
[עפ"י פחד יצחק שבועות מאמר ט"ו]