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Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim 5776

Ein Ayah: When Torah Study Is Not Necessary

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:255)

Gemara: [What are the divine reasons for the deadly disease of askara?] Rabbi Shimon answered: Due to the sin of bitul Torah (wasting Torah-learning opportunities). They said to him: but women [the fact that they die from it] is a disproof? They cause their husbands’ bitul Torah. Non-Jews are a disproof? They cause bitul Torah to Israel. Youngsters are a disproof? Youngsters cause their fathers’ bitul Torah. 


Ein Ayah: The reason that shortcomings in Torah study are destructive is that Bnei Yisrael are elevated to the point that they need to be maintained more than a normal human being needs, and this can be accomplished only by Torah. Their continued elevation is so necessary that several shortcomings stem from its lacking, as is the nature of precious apparatuses. 

There are other people who are made to lead their lives based on their natural propriety. They only need to protect themselves from ethical pollutants that can infiltrate their field of activity. They are supposed to proceed along their natural path and not embark on intellectual paths that are not set up for them (i.e., Torah), which could be destructive because their souls were not prepared for its lofty influence.

Women are far from the obligation to delve into Torah study. This is because their character is developed beautifully by completing their natural gentle emotions and honesty, which parallels the national strength that men receive through Torah’s harsh power. The obligation to learn Torah is foreign to them. Not only is the lack of Torah not destructive for them, but Torah would take away from their internal, natural serenity.

The Torah is loftier than the highest level of natural morality. Because the nations of the world are designed to establish their society securely based on natural norms, Torah is not at all fit for them. Torah can also harm the human processes that are more appealing to most people’s emotions. They need guidelines based on societal needs in the present and lower but pragmatic morality that preserves society by allowing all to be concerned responsibly about themselves, which is sustainable for them. If they concentrate on Torah values, which are focused on the far-reaching goals of eternal life, its light can blind them from society’s present needs.

Even male Jews need to experience the freedom of childhood, which prepares the body and spirit for the future demanding stage of intense Torah study. Therefore, young children are exempt from such study, not out of mercy, but to allow them to develop “natural wildness.”

Based on the above, rabbis were bothered by the claim that askara stems specifically from a lack in Torah study, which does not apply to the three groups who are exempt from it. The answer is that these groups are connected to responsibility for Torah study. A woman is responsible for the Torah of her husband, with whom she is supposed to build a home filled with the light of intellectual sanctity (Torah), along with proper emotions, which are themselves elevated by concern for Torah study. A woman’s responsibility for her husband’s lack of Torah study engenders a weakness in her morality.

Non-Jews are not supposed to be impacted through their own study but are supposed to be influenced by their Jewish counterparts’ Torah study. If they are responsible for a Jew’s idleness from it, this lowers their moral status and can be responsible for the disease, which can be related to any human’s sin (see Tehillim 90:3).

Childhood should include freedom and wildness but should not unnecessarily detract from the Torah study of those around the child. Thus, when there is lacking, the afflictions can fall not only on the adult but even on his child who caused his father to study insufficiently. This is because an “invisible thread” connects separate and distant elements of the spiritual world. This creates indirect responsibility for Torah study even for women, non-Jews, and children.    

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