Friday, May 14, 2010

Thought versus Action

Anyone whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; anyone whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom will not endure. (Mishna, Avot 2:13)
Action is the main thing, not study. You should see to it that your practical achievements are greater than your intellectual development.                          (Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Likutei MoHaRan II: 5, 15)
Yearning is of value only if you put it into action as a driving force for reaching higher levels. Otherwise, it will tend to create within you a subtle despair...In the end, you will stop yearning. (Reb Kalonymos Kalman Shapira, Tzav V'Ziruz: 23)
These thoughts - and others like them - always seem to scream out at me, sending chills up and down my spine. Many times these very concerns loom large in the forefront of my mind, and it's impossible to escape them. It is one of my greatest fears that I may end up losing sight of the big picture in my quest to amass more knowledge of HaShem, His ways, how humans fit into His plans, and how my role specifically is meant to play out in the grand scheme of things. While I don't believe that existentialism itself is inherently bad (despite Rebbe Nachman's exhortation), when it remains in the world of theory, without any practical application, what is it worth?

The fact is that one can learn numerous volumes of mussar, study many different philosophical approaches to understanding our world, and spend numerous study sessions unlocking the secrets of prayer, filling his siddur with underlines and highlighted markings. But if none of that is applied towards making the person into a better man through his utilizing those tools he acquired, then it is all a waste of time.

This is my fear: as I learn more, and gain more knowledge (aside from the fact that I continuously learn how much I really don't understand), how do I use it? Do I look down my nose at my less "educated" brethren as they "fumble through their darkened lives", or do I try to relate to them by focusing on their positive aspects? How can my studies be justified it they only enable me to see my fellow Jews with a critical eye? Is that the goal of all these endeavors? Why should that be? The study of thought and hashkafah do not guarantee anything without dedicated attempts at self rectification, and certainly doesn't place the philosopher on a higher pedestal solely by virtue of his scholastic achievements. The uneducated man who prays to God with a certain simplicity can teach the philosophy student the experiential wonders of true prayer which can not be described in any book adequately. If I could pray with truth and simplicity just once like that in my life, it would be worth more than all the books in the world!

To become mired down in purely intellectual pursuits is antithetical to Judaism. We are a religion of action - with underlying intent, of course - and the primary manifestation of our intellectual pursuits in the name of God have to be through obeying His tenets and safeguarding His laws.

As we enter into the month of Sivan, when the Chag of Shavuos quickly approaching, we need to internalize this message - myself especially - in order to be properly prepared to receive God's gift to us, His holy Torah.
Remember, upon accepting the Torah, we said "Na'aseh V'Nishma" ("We will do and we will hear"; Exodus 24:7); the action precedes the thought - we want to do, it's our raison d'etre - and everything else comes afterwards.

Among other things, it is my fervent hope that this blog counts as an effort to put my thoughts into practice, both as an inspiration for others and as a catalyst for my own growth. Writing is a creative process that cannot be done passively, and I try to put a lot into my original posts. With that said, I still need feedback; your comments, critiques and observations are integral to this blog; they are a significant factor in this process, and they are invaluable.

The other day during a session of hisbodedus I composed a short prayer regarding the above. I was able to recreate most of it, and I plan to say it on Shavuos after I complete the Tikkun Leil Shavuos, which is a gloss of the entire Torah, pulling excerpts from every section of the Written Law as well as Oral Law:

May it be Your will that I be able to properly utilize all my strengths, both mental and physical, in Your service, to faithfully carry out your commandments with fear and love, and great joy. Grant me the Wisdom and Understanding to distinguish between Ego and Emes (truth), so that I may have the Knowledge to internalize that which I have learned about Your creations, and assimilate the Truth therein to better serve You. Guard me from becoming lost in a forest of questions; clear a path for me, for I am coming to purify myself.  
Master of the World - my Father, my King! - all my learning is in order to proclaim the Torah's greatness and splendor; please protect me from the doubts that plague me, please remove the barriers that block my way, causing me to stumble time and again. Allow me to extract the profound from amongst the profane. Remove the covering from my eyes so that I see my fellow Jews with an ayin tov (a "good eye"), in order that I may be able to learn the true paths of worshipping You from them.                    
Without You, I am nothing, HaShem! 
Help me!
Help me!
Help me...                                                                                                                          


redsneakz said...

It's hard finding the balance point. From my own perspective, I've found books whose emphasis is mussar to be long on scolding and short on uplift. With that said, when you approach anything that is authentic Yiddishkeit with an open heart, whether saying tehillim or learning Gemara or even engaging in gemilus chasadim, you're going to improve in your own personal Yiddishkeit.

Gut shabbos.

Shmuel said...

You have some good points, redsneakz, but despite the important factor of the "open heart" that you mentioned, I'm not sure that Torah necessarily has an osmotic effect.
As a matter of fact, the Vilna Gaon explains the statement of ChaZaL that (not verbatim) "Torah is likened to dew; it causes that which is planted to grow." The implication is that Torah can cause inherent traits (good OR bad) to flourish; it is only through the dedicated acts of self rectification that one can truly succeed in extrectingmeaning in life...

Of course, a singular empahsis on Mussar isn't healthy, just as a singular emphasis on Chizuk isn't; there must be a relatively blended approach, presumably.

I'm referring here to my own self, really. I feel sometimes that I am in danger of remaining in the realm of the conceptual, and that I may lose sight of the fact that none of this is worth anything if I can't - or don't - apply that which I learn...

ramchal said...

Reb Shmuel, you are mamash amazing, the content and presentation of it was so good. Hashem should answer all your beautiful prayers.

Shmuel said...

Brother RamChaL,
Amen to that; HaShem should answer ALL of our prayers!