Counting the Omer with Ruth Schapira
Day 35 — Not Being Overly Satisfied in One’s Learning
Lo Meigis Libo b’Talmudo • לא מגיס לבו בתלמודו
By Rabbi Eric Gurvis, Newton, MA
It was about five years ago that my chevruta partner asked me whether I would mind terribly if we made a change in what we were studying in our weekly sessions. We’d been focused on an early rabbinic midrash text for almost three years. My reply was, “As I said when our (then larger) group began this chevruta journey in 2004, ‘I don’t really care what I study, I care that I study.’” For me the act and process of studying has long been the fruit of my Torah lishmah (study for its own sake). That crossroads turned out to be a significant pivot point for both us, as our focus turned to what began as a tentative exploration of Mussar. At the time, neither of us could have foreseen that this new area of exploration, study and practice would turn out to be so significant in our respective lives, and our study together. Even now, as we have worked our way through several Mussar Institute guided programs of study, and as we now study a particular classic mussar text page by page, middah by middah, we still find ourselves amazed with each new insight, especially as they relate to our world and our time.
At restaurant buffets, at which I have on occasion found myself, I have to teach myself restraint, lest I overindulge. In truth, eating at a buffet itself can be a meaningful practice of mussar as I try to attain a sense of balance, of striving for what I like to think of as the broad middle. Yet, at this buffet — the buffet of rich Jewish learning, I find there are always new delicacies to taste. There are always new voices to bring into the conversation — whether they be those of classic texts, those of more contemporary interpreters — and certainly I cherish the voices of those around me as we share the learning and the journey. However, even as I taste, and acquire new tastes, I am called to remember that anavah is calling me to maintain perspective as I acquire new learning.
In his Mivchar HaPeninim Rabbi Solomon Ibn Gabirol teaches: “The fruit of boasting is hatred.” Newly acquired insights and Torah are not for the purpose of uplifting myself, or the way in which others see me. As a child, I took music lessons to acquire skill in playing an instrument. Periodically my teacher would then have his students showcase what we’d learned in a recital.
Such is not the case when it comes to my Torah learning. My study of Torah, and of Mussar is not for the purpose of display at a recital. Rather, my ever-increasing treasury of Torah and mussar insights bring me closer to fulfilling my purpose in life — to draw closer to the Source of life and be a blessing to others with whom I share this world and the journey.
And in truth, of such learning, our souls can never be fully sated.
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