Dear Friend,

There was once a scholar who was quite arrogant despite—or perhaps because of—his Torah knowledge.

He once chanced upon Reb Zushia, a chassidic master known for his humility, who taught him a life lesson. Reb Zushia quoted the Talmudic discussion of whether the holy ark containing the Torah scrolls could be counted toward the 10 men required to form a prayer quorum—a notion the Talmud suggests and then rejects, noting that an ark is not a person, and only people can constitute a minyan.

“Why did the Talmud originally think,” Reb Zushia asked his visitor, “that the ark containing the Torah scrolls can be counted? Surely the Talmud's rejoinder, that an ark is not a person, is obvious?”

The man was dumbfounded, not knowing what to respond.

“Although an ark is merely a wooden box,” explained Reb Zushia, “it contains within it Torah scrolls. It was therefore supposed that the Torah it contains may elevate it to human status. The truth is, however, that despite the Torah you possess, if you remain a wooden box, unaffected by the Torah you’ve learned, you’re hardly a mentsch.”

The name of this week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, can be linked to the Hebrew root word that means “engrave.” Just as words etched in stone are not a distinct entity from the stone itself, so must our studies be internalized and engraved upon our hearts—or else we are but wooden boxes.

Shaul Wolf,
Responder for Ask the Rabbi @