Friday, December 08, 2006

Sam Maves

(Picture courtesy of

In a posting from November 2005, I wrote:

In Vayikra 10:16, the words "darosh darash" ("inquired insistently" [literally: "inquire he inquired"]) mark the halfway point by word count in the Torah. In fact, in many Chumashim the phrase "Half of the words of the Torah" is written in small print between the words darosh and darash. The Degel explained that this hints to the fact that the Torah sheh b'ksav (Written Torah) is only half of the Torah. The other half of the Torah can be found in the Torah sheh b'al peh. (Oral Torah); the part of the Torah where the Rabbis "inquired insistently" to expound upon the meaning of the Torah sheh b'ksav.

Another thought came to me on this teaching after reading Chabakuk Elisha's posting on Chumash. Just as the words of the Torah sheh b'al peh complete the Torah sheh b'ksav, the Torah sheh b'al peh is incomplete by itself, and a learning seder that is primarily focused on Gemara, without an accompanying seder in Chumash, is incomplete and can have potentially harmful affects.

The Degel Machaneh Ephaim often quoted the teaching that the Torah's teachings can be a "sam chaim" (elixir for life) if used correctly, and a "sam maves" (elixir for death) if used incorrectly. If a person only learns Gemara, he may become intellectually engaged by the material but removed from the material on a personal or emotional level; he goes through Torah but Torah does not go through him. He can occupy his mind with the intricacies of which materials contract ritual impurity, how to calculate the new moon, or what things invalidates a mikva. However, once he closes his Gemara and walks away, he may find little relevance of this material in his dealings throughout his day; these teachings remaining only factoids in his brain.

Taking this misguided "half of the words of the Torah" approach, it is possible that such a person's learning can become a "sam maves", and a person may detach himself from his Gemara and then come to the conclusion that he can engage in fraudulent activities, cheat on taxes, molest children, or commit adultery. He may use his analytical mind sharpened by pilpul to find loopholes in federal laws and regulations and use the gift of his intelligence for negative purposes. His focus on details may blind him from seeing the larger picture and cause him to become bigoted in his dealing with non-Jews. Eventually he will even show a lack of derech eretz when dealing with his fellow Jews.

Am I suggesting that everyone will turn into such a person if he learns only Gemara?


What I am suggesting is that a person needs to take a more balanced and broad approach in learning and learn more than just Gemara. One must take Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's advice to "learn and daven and learn" in order to bring the Torah's teachings into their daily lives.

Only then will the Torah be complete.


At December 8, 2006 at 11:42:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One has to learn pnimius haToyro in addition to nigle, and to learn how to learn Toyro, i.e. how to learn lishmo.

At December 8, 2006 at 11:44:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

How to learn - that sounds like a guest posting to me! What do you say:

"Guest Posting From A Yid - How To Learn Toyro"?

At December 9, 2006 at 11:44:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ASJ and A Yid: Go for the guest posting, I'm yearning to read it.


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