Counting the Omer with Barbara Grosh
Day 45 — Learning in Order to Do
Lomeid al m’nat La’asot • לומד על מנת לעשות
By Ruth Schapira, Philadelphia, PA
From this 45th Way of Wisdom we understand that the purpose of learning is to propel us to action. When we receive the Torah, we say “Na’aseh v’nishmah,” (Exodus 24:7) “we will do and we will listen” …we will do what You ask. We can infer that the end result is what matters. After all, if we are occupied with doing good things, the mitzvot, as we are commanded, would not the world be a better place? Absolutely. In fact, several expressions reinforce that idea. Actions speak louder than words. It’s what you do, not what you say. The Torah is filled with commandments and elsewhere in Pirkei Avot our Sages exhort us to “Say little and do much” (1:15) and “It is not the study which is the main thing but rather the deed” (1:17). It even has been said that Judaism is about deed, not creed.
We can certainly “do” without studying first. Many of our actions are reflexive, we tell someone to “have a nice day,” we open the door for someone struggling with packages, we help someone cross the street who is less able than we are. However, it seems that more is expected of us here. What does it mean to study in order to do? What happens when we study in order to perform the mitzvot we might otherwise do automatically?
Study and action are tied together, one divorced from the other becomes empty and hollow. Why are we doing the actions? When we study Torah, the wisdom of the One, in order to do a mitzvah, the final goal is not just the act itself, but our intentions and thoughts change the quality of what happens. Our actions, rather than being random, become part of an entire process that is meant to elevate us spiritually. As we sing in the Lecha Dodi on Kabbalat Shabbat “Sof ma’aseh b’mach’shava t’chila” (the end of action begins with the thought) every deed results after a thought. The thinking and learning produces a special quality of thought and meaning. When our study has a holy purpose, our soul becomes refined through intentionality. Then our actions become enlarged, expanded somehow … because then we are in the process of something greater than ourselves, enacting the Divine mission to purify our souls through what we do.
May our actions be infused with the wisdom we gain from learning Torah.
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