The Rebbe’s Yahrzeit and the mitzvah of Torah study

Tammuz 3 marks the Yahrzeit of the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Rebbe was the seventh leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, and is remembered for his ceaseless work to promote G-d’s word, and Ahavat Yisroel (love among Jews). He also reached out to righteous non-Jews, called Noahides, teaching them that they, too, played an important role. Spiritual leaders as innovative and dynamic as the Rebbe are rarely heard of; he provided hundreds of thousands of Jews with the resources and initiative to begin living a Torah-observant life, and his work led to the institution of a number of Chabad Houses, which continue to provide outreach to Jews around the world today.

The Rebbe was also extremely aware of the power of a single mitzvah. He continually repeated the fact that the performance of just one mitzvah could lead to the redemption of all of creation- he stated that even if a Jew currently had no interest in becoming wholly Torah observant, he or she could- and should- still perform lone mitzvot, to hasten the Moschiah’s arrival. He instated the 10-point mitzvah campaign, the 4th mitzvah being the study of Torah.

Torah study was always important to the Rebbe. By the time he became Bar Mitzvah, he was already recognised as a Torah prodigy, and continued to immerse himself in the study of Torah throughout his life. He knew that even just one line of the Torah contained eternal wisdom, and for that reason, he emphasised the importance of Torah study for everyone. With Tammuz 3 approaching on 8th-9th July, 2016, it’s a perfect time to begin to study the Torah, to commemorate the life and great deeds of the Rebbe.

Ideally, every person- Jew and Noahide alike- would study the Torah. However, in today’s world, many people argue that Torah study has no purpose. Criticism of the Torah, is rampant, and no longer frowned upon. Those who choose not to study it have many reasons to do so; they claim that the Torah is antiquated, and holds no place in today’s society. Others say that it is conflicted and made irrelevant by modern scientific advancements. And some simply say that studying the Torah is unsatisfying, and uninteresting, and feel that they could use their time for better pursuits.

Despite this list of arguments against studying the Torah, the Torah is G-d’s word, and always will serve as a valuable moral code. While the consensus on what’s right and wrong changes with each generation, the Torah remains the same. This is a testament of it’s strength, and the power and beauty of Torah can be found in many tenets of Chassidic wisdom.

Some people have argued that they have read the entire Torah, tried to find beauty in it, and failed. They claim that it is barbaric; not just antiquated, but grossly immoral. It seems that these people feel that they can criticise the Torah freely, often without evidence, simply because they have “read” the Torah, and that they “know” it.

In truth, the answer to this argument can be found in the wisdom of the Gerer Rebbe. He asked a young man; “Have you learned any Torah?”, to which the man responded, “Just a little”. The Gerer Rebbe’s reply hints to the unlimited, everlasting nature of the Torah; “That is all any of us have ever learned”. If even the tzaddikim have learned only a little Torah, then it is unthinkable to rebuke it based on one deceptive man’s complaints. Instead, one who finds himself dissuaded from Torah study by accusations that it is barbaric should attempt to learn Torah and decide for himself.

The Gerer Rebbe also illuminated the useful nature of the Torah, by relating the Midrashic parable in which a man fell from a boat, and was instructed by another man who threw him a rope; “Take hold of this rope, and do not let go; if you do, you will lose your life”. He used this parable to explain Mishlei 3:18, which reads, “It [the Torah] is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her”, remarking that if one “lets go” of the Torah, then they will “lose their life”.

The point of this lesson is that to the righteous, the Torah serves as a guide to all those who accept it. To elaborate; in the modern age, there is no one set of guidelines or moral code outlined by society. There is nothing which can claim to hold the same amount of instruction as the Torah. By embracing the Torah, you gain a new lifestyle, and a code of conduct to apply to every situation. It is amazing that the Torah provides guidance for every situation.

The Gerer Rebbe’s words do not just prove that the Torah is a code to live by. They also reveal the beauty of the Torah; the Torah is so beautiful that it is the very centre of life itself. Not only useful but invaluable. One who lets go of the Torah will lose essentially their entire life, but by beginning to study it, one gains a renewed, illuminating outlook on life.

However, nowadays, many people claim that they have no time to study the Torah; that they are too busy, or even that other, modern day pleasures interest them more. In truth, being too busy for the Torah is completely counter intuitive. One should make time in their hectic schedule to learn about their Creator; for without Him, they would not exist! What’s more, when one begins to study Torah, they will begin to re-shape their life around it. The Torah provides the same spiritual nourishment as water provides physical nourishment, and just as one would die of thirst without water, they would suffer a spiritual drought without Torah.

Tehillim chapter 19:11 answers the modern complaint that one finds other pursuits more interesting than the study of Torah; the words of the Torah, are more desirable than gold, and sweeter than honey. The Besht explained what this means, namely that because no man is contented with the amount of gold he has, it is clearly unsatisfying, and while honey is sweet, it is unpleasant to the sated man, yet Torah is always satisfying and pleasant. One cannot say they do not find satisfaction in the Torah until they have attempted to study it.

Other people argue that the study of Torah is a useless pursuit; they say that surely it is more beneficial to mankind as a whole to perform a “physical mitzvah”, such as helping the poor and healing the sick. Indeed, Parshas Shlach does emphasise the importance of performing good deeds, in addition to studying and davening; we learn that the wicked spies’ motive for staying in the desert was so that they did not have to perform physical mitzvot, and for their deception they were later put to death.

However, the misunderstanding that Torah study serves no purpose is rectified in the teachings of the Mezeritzer, who said; “When we fulfil the words of the Torah, we complete the three conditions requisite for a mitzvah; thought, words and performance”. Indeed, studying Torah without good deeds is insufficient, but good deeds without Torah are impossible. This is parallel to an issue discussed in the Tanya, which explains that lower level love must be attained before wisdom, and that wisdom must be attained before one can have higher level love for their Creator.

Today, many people argue that the Torah itself is incompatible with science. Modern advancements in science, they claim, prove that the Torah is untrue. This is in fact the most common reason why people forsake the Torah; they simply believe that science overrides it. Such people ignore the fact that many Orthodox rabbis have managed to skilfully combine both Torah and science; such people include the Rebbe.

Before the Rebbe’s birth, the Koretzer remarked that “…The Torah is higher than all other sciences… [because] he who is learned in Torah finds it easy to understand any other science; but he who has learned other sciences finds it difficult to understand Torah”. This statement isn’t intended to say that science is unimportant, but it proves that science and Torah are not opposed to one another, but combinable. The Rebbe himself studied in Berlin and Paris, and had a great amount of scientific knowledge.

Despite the various arguments brought against the Torah, we learn from Chassidic wisdom, the life of the Rebbe, and the actions of those who are Torah-observant that the Torah is not- and shall never be- irrelevant, unimportant or antiquated. It is a beautiful gift, and the study of Torah has the ability to transform one’s life and outlook. The Torah is extremely innovative, as well; many modern ideals, such as women’s equality, and efforts to end starvation, come from the Torah. It will always serve as a guiding light to those who embrace it, and the Rebbe’s Yahrzeit on Tammuz 3 is the perfect opportunity to begin studying Torah.

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