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Hayom Yom: Tackling Life's Tasks - 23 Elul

Hayom Yom: Tackling Life's Tasks - 23 Elul

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ר' מֹשֶׁה, בְּנוֹ שֶׁל רַבֵּנוּ הַזָּקֵן בְּלָמְדוֹ — וְהוּא אָז כְּבֶן ח'-י"א שָׁנָה — הַסּוּגְיָא בְּשִׁבְחָן שֶׁל חֲכָמִים בְּגִטִּין (ס"ז א), נִסְתַּפֵּק בְּמַאֲמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחָאי שָׁם: שְׁנוּ מִדּוֹתַי, שֶׁיֵשׁ בָּזֶה שְׁנֵי פֵּרוּשִׁים: לִמְדוּ תוֹרָתִי (רַשִׁ"י) אוֹ מִדּוֹתַי כִּפְשׁוּטוֹ. בְּתוֹךְ כַּךְ נִכְנַס רַבֵּנוּ הַזָּקֵן וְאָמַר — בְּנִגּוּן, כְּדַרְכּוֹ בַּקֹּדֶשׁ: תּוֹרָה שֶׁנִּתְּנָה לָנוּ כּוּלָּהּ מִדּוֹת טוֹבוֹת, אֲפִלּוּ הָעוֹנָשִׁין שֶׁבָּהּ הֵם בֶּאֱמֶת חֶסֶד וָטוֹב, וּשְׁנֵי הַפֵּרוּשִׁים אֶחָד הֵם וְהָא בְּהָא תַּלְיָא: אִי אֶפְשָׁר לִהְיוֹת מִדּוֹת טוֹבוֹת בְּלִי תּוֹרָה, וְאִי אֶפְשָׁר לַתּוֹרָה בְּלִי מִדּוֹת טוֹבוֹת. כְּכָל הַנִּזְכָּר לְעֵיל קָרָה גַּם לְהַצֶּמַח צֶדֶק בִּהְיוֹתוֹ בְּגִיל ח'-י"א שָׁנָה.

The Alter Rebbe’s son, R. Moshe, who was between eight and eleven years old at the time, was studying the passage in Tractate Gittin (p. 67a) that praises our Sages, and was uncertain about the meaning of R. Shimon bar Yochai’s statement: “Study midosai.” There are two interpretations of this: “Learn my teachings” (as Rashi comments), or “Learn my character traits,” according to the simple meaning of the term middos.

As he was deliberating, the Alter Rebbe entered the room and said the following words melodically, as was his holy practice: “The Torah that was given to us consists entirely of exemplary character traits. Even its punishments are really kindness and goodness. Thus the two interpretations are in fact one and interdependent. It is impossible to have exemplary character traits without Torah knowledge and it is impossible to have Torah knowledge without exemplary character traits.”

The Tzemach Tzedek had an identical experience when he was the same age.1

Delving Deeply

Our Sages note2 that when the Torah wants to highlight the unique status of Elisha the prophet, it describes him as the one “who poured water over the hands of Eliyahu,”3 rather than one “who studied Torah under his direction.” Why is this description preferred? Because “serving a Torah sage is superior to studying under him.”4

The rationale for this is simple: If the mentor is a genuine sage, his teachings are manifest in his behavior. And his personal attendant is best placed to observe those teachings — not just in theory, but in actuality, as applied truths and real-life instances of exemplary conduct.

This is the acid test of character, and it is articulated in the classic words of Rambam: “Just as a sage is recognizable by his learning and his thoughts, which distinguish him from other people, so too should he be recognizable by his conduct — in the course of his eating and drinking…, his speech, his gait, his clothing, the management of his affairs, and in his interpersonal relations.”5

A contemporary expression of this concept: Every shaliach will attest that he has been able to bring more people close to the Torah way of life by developing a personal relationship with themand giving them the opportunity to get to know his family informally, than by delivering enlightening lectures and classes. For the truth of the Torah is most evident in its application, even more than in its theory.

Footnotes
1.
Sefer HaSichos — Kayitz, 5700 [1940], p. 107.
2.
Berachos 7b.
4.
See also the maamarim entitled Lechah Dodi that were delivered in the years 5689 (1928) and 5714 (1953).
5.
Hilchos Deos 5:1.
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