Counting the Omer with Irma Freudenreich
Day 1 — Study
Talmud • תלמוד
By Avi Fertig, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel
On the surface, it makes sense to begin our list of qualities needed to acquire Torah with study. Torah is a wellspring of wisdom and guidance for one’s spiritual journey through life. Yet after further reflection, starting our list with study requires further explanation.
The Mishnah lists ways to acquire Torah. It is certainly a prerequisite of acquiring Torah to actually know what it is you are acquiring. But the qualities needed to actually make the acquisition — to have the Torah become part of my essence and to transform my inner being — would seemingly be qualities that start after I have studied and learned what I am to acquire. Acquiring Torah means that my innermost essence connects with Godly wisdom. How does study help to forge a relationship with the Divine and transform my inner being?
It is not this list alone that makes the point that study is a key means to acquiring Torah and transforming our inner selves. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (RaMChaL) writes that the purpose of life is to connect with one’s Creator. Understandably, he says that love (ahava) and fear/awe (yirah) of God are, “Powerful means through which an individual can draw close to one’s Creator.” He then says, “God granted humanity one particular means that can bring us close to Him more than anything else: the study of Torah.” (Derekh HaShem 1:4:8-9)
One of the many blessings in my life is the years I spent immersed in full time Torah study. For a period of almost ten years I was afforded the opportunity to make Torah study my sole vocation, my entire world. It was the time in my life when I felt most rooted to my deeper self and most connected with the Divine. The indescribably sweet Torah study brought inner transformation. I experienced greater discipline and was connected with my innermost truth. Even previously dormant (my parents would say non-existent) modesty and humility were slowly nurtured.
And so, I might not fully understand how or why it works the way it does, but I no longer question that intensive study is the ultimate quality vital to acquiring Torah and transforming one’s life. My experience has taught me that it is true. This is the message just a few verses earlier in Pirkei Avot (6:4) after the text describes the physical deprivation necessary for one to fully immerse in the study of Torah, it adds: “If you do so, ‘fortunate are you, and good is to you’ (Psalms 128:2): fortunate are you in this world, and it is good to you in the World To Come.” Only when you do it will you know.
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