Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spirit of the Law: T'u B'Shevat II

On the subject of Tu B’Shevat, the Chidushei HaRim, zt”l, shares a very powerful concept: the “new year’s” judgment of Tu B’shvat primarily determines one’s access to novel Torah concepts (chidushei Torah) for the upcoming year.

Rav Nosson of Breslov, zt”l, writes that there are two levels of chidushei Torah. The first is the joy and rapture of bearing and sharing the fruit of one’s Torah learning, bringing down and sharing novel Torah concepts. This is the spiritual root of the sweetness of fruit to the palate. Without this feeling of sweetness, a person has virtually no genuine connection to Torah even if he or she learns assiduously and innovates novel interpretations. The second, lower, level of chidush is accessing a feeling of renewal and connection from every bit of Torah learning, prayer, and avodah even when there is nothing objectively novel about the concepts in which one is immersed. One still feels a powerful joy and connection, and this is the ultimate fruit of Torah study, as we say in the daily blessing: “Hashem, please make Torah learning sweet in my mouth.”

May we merit renewal and connection every day of the coming year, each person on his own level, in his own way. Tu B’Shevat is the time to pray for newness in Torah, especially in the Oral Torah, since Shevat was the month during which Moshe began to transmit the book of Devarim, which is the nucleus of all Oral Torah. This is the time that Moshe began to “Be’er es haTorah”—“explain the Torah”—but the word for explain is be-er, the well, which parallels the mazal of this month, the D’li, or water-bearer. May Hashem help us all to feel true joy and connection in our efforts to “draw up and pour out” the waters of the Torah! Without the joy, where are we?

Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l had a student who was famous for his diligence as well as his creative thinking; he had the distinction of being both a masmid and a mechadeish. This bochur studied many years under Rav Yisroel, but one day, to the shock and dismay of all the other students, the “prodigy” went off the derech!

When the terrible news was brought to the Rav, he displayed no surprise at all.

“During all the years that I oversaw this student’s progress, I never glimpsed the least glimmer of joy on his face. He worked very hard to grasp the depth of a subject, but it was obvious that he was never really moved by any of his chiddushim. He never allowed himself to be connected to the Torah, and so it was easy for him to fall away!”

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