“Killing” oneself for the sake of Torah means that while studying Torah, one must be devoted to Torah study as if nothing else in the world exists.
This week’s Torah portion is Chukat (Numbers 19:1 – 22:1). Chukat is a very mysterious, and by extension, difficult Torah portion in many ways. Indeed, the word “Chukat” can actually be translated as “commandments whose reasons are unknown.”
The most mysterious of the “commandments whose reasons are unknown” is in this week’s Torah portion, and that is: the purification process of the Red Heifer. One who became impure through contact with a corpse was required to have some ashes of a Red Heifer sprinkled upon him as part of the purification procedure. It’s fair to say that such a mitzvah is a little weird.. Even more perplexing is the fact that the one who performed the red heifer ceremony upon the impure individual was himself rendered impure as a result! That’s right: The impure becomes pure, while the one who was originally pure is now impure. Mindboggling. Our sages tell us that even King Solomon, the wisest of all men, could not understand the logic or reasoning of such a commandment.
There are a number of intriguing Talmudic teachings based on our mysterious Torah portion. For example the Talmudic sage Reish Lakish taught: “From where do we know that Torah knowledge is only acquired by someone who kills himself over it? It is from the verse [in this week’s Torah portion]: ‘This is the Torah of the man who would die in a tent…’”
Huh? What’s going over here? In order to be successful and learned in Torah a person has to…..kill himself? Is that what the Torah is telling us?!?
Of course not. Every Jew is obligated to set some time aside –-any amount of time– every day in order to study Torah. As our sages teach us, it does not mater whether one is rich or poor, healthy or ill, young or old, single or married. In this regard, every single Jew is equal. Everyone must find time to study Torah every day.
“Killing” oneself for the sake of Torah means that while studying Torah, one must be devoted to Torah study as if nothing else in the world exists. Make no mistake, this does not mean that one must study Torah for hours and hours every day. Rather, it means that the 15, 30 or 60 minutes a day that a person chooses to devote to Torah study, and other similar Jewish-based educational pursuits, must be completely focused, committed, and uninterrupted. When a person studies Torah, it is if he is “dead”, meaning, unavailable for any other task in the world.
So, when you’re studying Torah and your wife asks you to take out the garbage, just tell her that Rabbi Enkin at United with Israel told you that you can simply say no. Tell her “Later, Honey. As soon as I’m done studying Torah.” And ladies, when you’re immersed in your daily allocated Torah study session and your husband asks for dinner, just tell him, “Sorry Honey, but Rabbi Enkin at United with Israel says that when we’re studying Torah nothing else matters.”
And this explains the meaning of “the man who would die in a tent” – when in your ‘tent’ of Torah study, whether it is a class in your synagogue, a book in the library, or a Torah based periodical in your living room on your easy chair, you are simply unavailable. Torah time is Torah time. Period. Yes, some things in life are simply non-negotiable.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!