Rabbi Paysach Burke
...and all your desires cannot compare to it. (Proverbs 3:15)
...וְכָל־חֲפָצֶיךָ לֹא יִשְׁווּ־בָהּ. (משלי ג:טו)
A young man asked a Rabbi: Why should I keep Shabbos? To which he replied: You just got to experience it – I cannot describe what it’s like to you! It is simply an immensely pleasurable experience. Why not give it a try? A pleasure seeker overheard this and said to himself: I’m going to give it a try – what do I have to lose? What if it is as pleasurable as he says – then I want to taste Shabbos too!
Who do you see yourself as in this story? Are you like the curious pleasure seeker, ready to try something different or the sceptic questioner, preferring to keep the status quo?
In a similar vein is Torah study. If anything more so, as there is no pleasure like it as it surpasses all other pleasures in this world.1 I cannot do justice in attempting to describe the pleasure experienced when studying Torah and each time one opens a book or hears a shiur is different as one is shown a new colour or tastes a new flavour or feels a new warmth.
Torah is like nothing else yet it is compared to many things. It is like water to quench thirst, bread to satisfy, meat and wine to gladden and intoxicate, sweet as honey, precious as silver, refined gold and rare jewels, Torah beautifies, vivifies, revives and is like a Good Woman/Eishes Chayil. Yet for all that Torah is compared to, it is greater than them all.2
So this begs the question - then if it is the most pleasurable thing around, why don’t we constantly busy ourselves with it? If we are so led by our desires to have tasty food and drink, watch movies and series, play games and sleep, then why are we not also learning Torah – if it’s so much greater than all other pleasures in the universe?
Torah is also compared to olives – it is an acquired taste. At first bitter but the more you eat, the sweeter it becomes.3 At first appearing a burden, Torah becomes a delight. Also, like refined gold, the more precious something is, the more difficult it is to attain. Consequently, the pleasure of Torah is likewise difficult to attain. It requires us to be ‘plugged-in’, to constantly be ‘online’ and connected to Torah. The more we are connected, the easier it is to maintain that connectivity. If we forget to be ‘online’ with Torah for a day, then Torah will stop ‘following us’, stop elevating us.4 We need to be interested in Torah for Torah to be interested in us. To be ‘plugged-in’ and to feel the surge of that holy electricity; the longer we are ‘plugged-in’ and regularly ‘online’, the greater the pleasure of Torah’s enlightening and elevating fire!5
The challenge for us is that even if we have experienced the joy of Torah, before we ‘plug-in’, Torah does not seem so attractive compared with other pleasures – we forget and prefer to sit and read the news, play a game, have a glass of wine or another piece of sushi. It is at that moment when we have the greatest challenge to recall our past encounters with Torah and remember how enjoyable they were in order to cajole our base drives to give Torah another chance, to again seek pleasure like no other, and so if we were to only think and remind ourselves how great it was the last time we studied Torah and how all else paled into insignificance compared to Torah’s delight, then we may have an opening to renew that connectivity and ‘plug-in’ once again to the fire, the great light, the holiness and the pure joy that is ours to partake of whenever we so desire – Torah.
Perhaps you think this is all just a bobba maise? Not to be taken seriously and a nice little opinion piece to pass the time? It’s no bobba maise, the pleasure of Shabbos and Torah are real! Further, these pleasures are experiences of the Divine, a taste of the world to come and G-d’s Presence.
So why not give it a try?
(Originally published in Pretoria Jewish Chronicle July/Aug 2018 p25)
1. Proverbs 3:15; 8:11; Iglei Tal, Introduction
2. Proverbs 2:4; 3:2,8,14-18,22; 4:8-10,22; 5:15,18-19; 8:10-11,18-19,35; 9:2,5,11; 16:24; 31:10-31
3. Kli Yakar, Exodus 15:23; Alternatively, a raw olive is bitter and through pickling is sweet
4. Sifrei Devarim 48:8, Leave Torah for a day it will leave you for two
5. Proverbs 6:23