Be’ohalei Ha’avos On Pirkei Avos


krakowskiBy Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski

Torah is greater than the priesthood or sovereignty, for sovereignty is acquired with thirty virtues, the priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are: 1) study, 2)listening, 3) verbalizing, 4) comprehension of the heart, 5) awe, 6) fear, 7) humility, 8) joy, 9) purity, 10) attending to the sages, 11) attentiveness to peers, 11) debating with one’s students, 12) tranquility, 13) study of the scriptures, 14) study of the Mishnah, 15) minimizing engagement in business, 16) not to overly copulate, 17) minimizing pleasure, 18) minimizing sleep, 19) minimizing talk, 20) minimizing frivolousness, 21) slowness to anger, 22) good heartedness, 23) rational faith, 24) acceptance of suffering, 25) knowing one’s place, 26) satisfaction with one’s lot, 27) safeguarding one’s words, 28) not taking credit for oneself, 29) likableness, 30) love of God, 31) love of humanity, 32) love of charity, 33) love of justice, 34) love of rebuke, 35) fleeing from honor, 36) lack of arrogance in learning, 37) reluctance to make a ruling, 38) participating in the burden of one’s fellow, 39) judging him to the side of merit, 40) correcting him, 41) bringing him to a peaceful resolution [of his disputes], 42) deliberation in study, 43) asking and answering, 44) listening and illuminating, 45) learning in order to teach, 46) learning in order to fulfill, 47) edifying one’s teacher, 48) exactness in conveying a teaching and saying something in the name of its speaker. For we have learned: One who says something in the name of its speaker brings redemption to the world, as is stated (Esther 2:22), “And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai.”

This beraisa lays down for us all the prerequisite attributes necessary to acquire Torah Greatness, forty-eight in all. Some of these aspects seem to have a direct correlation to achievement in Torah study while others do not have an obvious relationship with Torah Greatness. What commonality or pattern do these attributes share that make them the sine qua non to procuring Torah?
Perhaps – before we discuss what about them makes them an imperative to acquiring Torah – we should ask what does it mean to acquire the Torah? Furthermore, isn’t the Torah by and large a law book? In fact the commentaries all seem to need an answer as to why the Torah begins with creation of the world and stories of our ancestors (see Rashi and Ramban on Bereishis). They seem to be bothered by the fact that the Torah is supposed to be a book of rules and dictums, not a history book. How could it be that laws belong to anyone other than a governing body or judicial system?
The questions posed thus far lead us to yet another ‘must ask’ question. If the Torah is a book of laws why do we enjoy and love it? We all dance for hours on end over Simchas Torah; we celebrate receiving it on Shavuos. We cherish its scholars and whenever a new Torah scroll is written we honor it like a dignitary. When we finish studying a tractate in Gemorah, we celebrate. What kind of law book is the Torah that we have such an affinity and infatuation for it?
I attended a new Yeshiva for my high school years. As my class was the very first of the Yeshiva, each year the Yeshiva hired a new magid shiur for our class. In our senior year the Yeshiva hired an extremely energetic magid shiur, Reb Meir Rotenberg Shlita. One of the first evenings in Elul Z’man during seder Reb Meir got into a very heated debate with another one of the magidei shiur in the yeshiva. At the height of the argument the rebeim started shouting at one another. There were two freshmen that witnessed the heated argument. These two freshmen took a break from seder and were standing in the hallway outside the Beis-Medrash snickering over this ‘fight’ between the two rebeim. Reb Meir then walked by and overheard the snickering. He stopped and explained to them the following. “I labored over an approach to the sugya for a long time; to me it is crystal clear that my approach is the correct one. Came along the other Rabbi and he tells me I have it all wrong. If he would have told me I could have a gotten a better deal on my rent – I would have felt stupid – but I would have accepted it. However, he told me my approach to the sugya is wrong but I was convinced that I was right. I worked hard on my approach; it’s as if he grabbed my baby out my hands and tells me: it’s not your baby, it’s mine”.
When we think of law we may appreciate it but we certainly don’t love it. Perhaps we may even dislike a lot of it. Let’s face it: who loves speed limits and who loves taxes? I for one think the United States legal system is as close to perfection as is humanly possible, yet quite often I find it vexatious. Law and order are compulsory yet they are not delectable in any way whatsoever. Most of society is made up of law abiding individuals but how many people actually enjoy following the laws?
Suppose however we weren’t just law abiding individuals but rather legislators passionately creating laws. When a lawmaker fights for legislation to be passed by a parliament it would stand to reason that the legislator would indeed by elated by the law he helped to pass. Why? Because it’s his law. Similarly it reasons that a parliamentarian, senator congressman who fought for a given law will revel in its observance.
When we create something it essentially belongs to us. Torah is God-Given so we cannot actually create it. Nonetheless we can acquire Torah and make it ours. In any transaction there is a give and a take. In order to affect the acquisition of Torah we must give ourselves over to the Ribbono Shel Olam, His word the Torah, and to all emissaries of His word, be it the teachings of the Torah scholar, to the words of our fellow Torah student, and even to the words of one’s own students. One must focus on it, and therefore one must shy away from all of its deterrents. The more one make Torah one’s own the more one will love and cherish the Torah. One who views law as a burden is more likely to be less diligent in adhering to it. By acquiring Torah one will relish adhering to its every – and most minor – dictums. One will no doubt develop an unquenchable thirst to learn the Torah with great exactitude.

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