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The Wisdom of Rabbi Chananya

The Wisdom of Rabbi Chananya

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Rabbi Chananya, the son of Akashya, said: The Holy One, blessed be He, was pleased to make Israel worthy; therefore He gave them a vast Torah and many commandments; as it is said: It pleased G‑d, for His righteousness' sake, to make the Torah great and honorable.

This saying of Rabbi Chananya comes from the Mishnah (last Mishnah of Makkoth). We are familiar with it because we say it after every time we say Pirkei Aboth (Sayings of Our Fathers) on the Sabbath between Passover and Shovuoth (and throughout the whole summer, according to the custom of others).

At first glance, it seems that Rabbi Chananya tells us that because G‑d favored us and was pleased with us, He gave us a Torah without end and many duties-commandments, or precepts to perform. Would it not have been easier and better for us, if we had a small Torah and but a few duties?

Now the true wisdom of Rabbi Chananya will be understood with the help of the following story:

Once upon a time there lived a young man, who had no experience in business. For some time after his marriage he was supported by his father-in-law, so that he could continue studying. But then came the day when the father-in-law said to him: "My boy, it is time you went out into the big world and found your own way in life. Here you have a sizable sum of money. Go to the Big City, where you can buy and bring back with you fine merchandise, and make a nice profit. By the way, I have a good friend there, and you will do well to listen to his advice."

The young man took the money and made his way to the Big City. After finding himself a room in a Hotel, he went to look up the old friend of the family. The young man told him about the purpose of his coming to the Big City, and how much money he had, promising to do everything the old friend would advise him to do.

"Leave it to me," the old friend said, and the young man left him and went back to his hotel. Immediately, the old friend went from one factory to another, picked fine merchandise and ordered it for the young man's account.

In the meantime, the young man returned to his hotel and was thinking how best to spend his time. But the next moment bills and invoices began to pour in from various manufacturers. There was a lot to do: to check the bills, inspect the merchandise, watch the packing, and so on. Every day, during his entire stay in the Big City, the young man was kept so busy that he had no time to think of anything else. Then he realized that he had spent all his money, and had bought as much merchandise as he could. He went to the old friend to thank him for his help and to bid him good-bye.

"But you kept me so busy," the young man complained laughingly, "that I hardly had a chance to have a good time."

"My dear young man," the wise old friend replied. "You ought to be very grateful to me for having kept you busy doing such good business. I have seen other young men come to this Big City on business. But they soon forget what they came for and get busy having 'a good time.' Before they look around, they find their money spent on nothing, and when it is time to go back, they go back empty-handed and in shame. You, on the other hand, will come back loaded with fine merchandise, and your future will be assured."

This is what Rabbi Chananya had in mind. G‑d wanted us to be worthy. When we come to this Big City, the temptations are many. So G‑d gave us a great Torah and many precepts. 'We are kept busy buying the best merchandise the Torah and Mitzvoth. Not only will our life be a full one, a happy one, and a worthy one, but the Torah that we learn and the precepts that we do make us worthy, pure and holy. - We thank G‑d for the Torah and Mitzvoth; they are not a burden; they are the greatest gift that G‑d gave us; they show us how much He really loves us.

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