Action Speak Louder than Words

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Yisro
Action Speak Louder than Words

The highlight of this week's Parsha is the story about the Jews receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Jewish People's acceptance of the Torah was evident in their words, "Na'aseh V'Nishmah (We will do and we will listen; Ex. 19:8, Mechiltah #4, Ex. 24:7).

There is a story that is connected to this declaration. Once upon a time, a certain Sadducee saw the Amoraic sage Rava engaged in the study of Torah. What he witnessed was that Rava was sitting on his hands while he was learning. There was so much pressure placed on Rava's hands that his fingers began to bleed.

The Sadducee criticized Rava by saying that the Jewish People were rash in the past and they are still behaving irrationally today. The Jews were rash by placing their mouths before their ears when they said "We will do" before saying "We will listen." First they should have said "we will listen" and then listen to what God's commandments were. If they were capable of doing God's will and if they still wanted to do God's will, then they should have said "We will do." However, if they were not capable of fulfilling God's will or if they did not want to follow His commandments, they should have rejected the Torah. The Jews are still rash because look how Rava is squeezing the blood out of his hands while he is engrossed in Torah learning.

Rava responded by saying that Jews who walk with integrity live up to the verse that says, "The integrity of the upright will guide them" (Pro. 11:3). However, the Sadducees who walk with perversity live up to the verse that says, "The perverseness of the treacherous will destroy them" (Pro. 11:3).

This story triggers a few questions. First of all, what lesson are we supposed to learn from Rava sitting on his hands so intensely during Torah study that blood flowed from them?

Moreover, what is the comparison between Rava sitting on his hands to the Jewish People saying "Na'aseh" before "Nishmah?"

There is also a Mishna which is connected to Na'aseh V'Nishmah. Rebbi Chaninah ben Dosa said that any person whose actions exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure, as it says, "Na'aseh V'Nishmah." However, any person whose wisdom exceeds his actions, his wisdom will not endure (Pirkei Avos, chap. 3, "Akavya", Mishnah 12; Avos D'Rebbi Nasan, 22:1).

This too raises a question. What is the connection between a person whose actions exceed his wisdom to Na'aseh V'Nishmah?

There is another statement from a different Mishnah which complements the previous one. Rebbi Elazar ben Azarya said that anybody whose wisdom exceeds his actions is compared to a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few. Any wind that comes could uproot such a tree causing it to turn upside down and fall on its face. However, any person whose actions exceed his wisdom is compared to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous. All the winds of the world could come and blow against it but they will not be able to budge it from its place (Avos, chap. 3, "Akavya", Mishnah 22).

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that we learn a tremendous lesson from this Mishnah. Without this Mishnah, one could argue that the study of Torah is the root and basis of the Mitzvos. After all, without knowing what to do, how can we fulfill them? However, Rebbi Elazar ben Azarya is teaching us just the opposite. He says that the Mitzvos are the root and anchor for the Torah. A person with more Mitzvos than Torah wisdom is solid and cannot be shaken easily.

This is why the angels lost the battle over the Torah (Shabbos, chap. 9, "Amar Rebbi Akivah", pgs. 88b-89a). Moshe Rabbenu showed them that they could not fulfill the Mitzvos such as honoring parents (Ex. 20:12) or any Mitzvah for that matter. Angels who possess a wealth of Torah knowledge, fall under the category of one whose wisdom exceeds his actions. The Torah could never last by such creatures. Any person whose wisdom exceeds his actions is just like the angels and the Torah's wisdom will not last within him (Shevilei Pinchas).

Now we have to ask ourselves why it is imperative to exceed in Mitzvos more than in wisdom. The Belzer Rebba (Rebbi Yehoshuah, Leket Imrei Kodesh, Shavuos, pg. 312b) explains that since we have a very materialistic body, it causes resistance to accepting the holy and spiritual Torah within our systems. However, when we use the two hundred forty-eight limbs of our bodies to engage in the two hundred forty-eight positive Mitzvos and withhold the three hundred sixty-five sinews of our bodies from the three hundred sixty-five negative commandments, we are involved in the process of purifying our bodies, turning them more into souls than bodies. This reduces the tension between the spiritual and physical considerably. It is then that the Torah can be absorbed into our systems.

The Sefas Emes (Parshas Mishpatim) adds that the Jewish People at Sinai knew this. This is why they said Na'aseh before Nishmah. First they said "We will do" the Mitzvos and purify our bodies. Only afterwards did they say "We will listen" to Torah wisdom.

The Ya'aros Devash (vol. 2, #8) adds that this is what the two boxes of Tefillin represent. Those two boxes correspond to the two spiritual crowns that each Jew received after announcing "Na'aseh V'Nishmah" (Shabbos, chap. 9, "Amar Rebbi Akivah", pg. 88a, Rebbi Simai). The box on the arm corresponds to Na'aseh, doing the Mitzvos, because the arm upon which it is worn is used to perform the Mitzvos. The box on the head corresponds to Nishmah, Torah wisdom; because the brain upon which it is worn is used to contemplate Torah thoughts.

When donning the Tefillin, the box on the arm is placed on the body prior to the box on the head. This teaches us that Na'aseh must come before Nishmah. However, when removing the Tefillin, the box on the head is removed first. Only then is the box on the arm removed. Since the box on the arm is worn for a longer period of time than the box on the head it teaches us that one's actions must exceed one's wisdom (Menachos, chap. 3, "Hakometz Rabba, pg. 36a, Dt. 6:8: Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 28:2).

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains the Avos D'Rebbi Nasan who made a connection between one whose actions exceed his wisdom to the statement Na'aseh V'Nishmah. Both represent the same thing. Na'aseh V'Nishmah implies that the Jewish People first accepted the Mitzvos in order to purify their bodies. Only then did they say Nishmah which meant that only then they would be prepared to hear the wisdom of Torah. This is the same thing as a person whose actions exceed his wisdom. This person's actions purify his body so that it will be capable of digesting Torah wisdom.

At this point, one more question needs to be raised. Why did Rebbi Elazar ben Azarya compare these two types of people (more Mitzvos or more wisdom) specifically to two types of trees (more roots or more branches)?

The Divrei Chaim (Rebbi Chaim from Tzanz, Parshas Bereishis) says that these two trees represent the two trees in Gan Eden (paradise), the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life (Gn. 2:8). The Tree of Life was a tree that had more roots than branches, representing more Mitzvos than Torah wisdom. However, the Tree of Knowledge was a tree that had more branches than roots, representing more Torah wisdom than Mitzvos. After all, it is called the Tree of KNOWLEDGE.

Adam Harishon's mission in Gan Eden was to increase his Mitzvos. This can be seen from God's statement telling Adam to eat from all the other trees of the garden (Gn. 2:16). This did not only mean that Adam was allowed to eat from all the other trees, it was a command that he had to eat from all the other trees, including the Tree of Life. In other words, Hashem told Adam that he must first amass many Mitzvos in order to purify his body.

Moreover, according to the Chiddushei Harim (cited in the Sifsei Tzaddik, Parshas Kedoshim, #16), there were six hundred and thirteen trees in Gan Eden, representing the six hundred and thirteen Mitzvos. At the helm of those trees was the Tree of Life. When Hashem commanded Adam to eat from all the other trees, He was intimating that Adam must gather as many Mitzvos as possible.

This idea is strengthened by a Zohar. The verse says, "And He (God) placed him (Adam) in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it" (Gn. 2:15). If Adam was being placed in Gan Eden, why would there be any need to work? In Paradise, everything grows on trees already made. The Zohar (Parshas Bereishis, pg. 27a) says that "to work" really means to perform the positive Mitzvos, whereas "to guard" really means to abide by the negative Mitzvos. This Zohar supports the idea that we mentioned above that Adam's purpose in Gan Eden was to do as many Mitzos as possible.

When I saw this Divrei Chaim, a few ideas occurred to me. I would like to share them with you now. When God commanded Adam to eat from all the trees, including the Tree of Life, it was Friday. Friday belongs to the six days of the week. This means that Hashem's desire is that during the six weekdays, man must collect as many Mitzvos as possible. This is why Hashem forbade Adam from eating from the Tree of Knowledge. This prohibition only applied on Friday (and on any of the other weekdays). By inference, God did intend that Adam partake of the Tree of Knowledge, but only on Shabbos. The reasoning for this is as follows.

During the week, most people have to go to work in order to support their families. This leaves very little time for serious Torah study. However, the work week does provide a person with so many opportunities to fulfill Mitzvos. For example, there is an entire section of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) which applies at the work place (Choshen Mishpat). But, when Shabbos comes in, those Mitzvos which occur at the work place no longer apply. Instead we are freed up to engage in uninterrupted Torah study (see Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Orach chaim, 290:2). Hashem set up the week in such a way that the six days of Mitzvos precede the seventh day of Torah study. In this way, we prepare our bodies with purification prior to receiving the Torah's wisdom. This is hinted to by Adam being told to eat only from the Tree of Life during the week. On Shabbos, however, Adam was allowed to taste from the Tree of Knowledge.

Perhaps we could add more. What was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge? According to Rebbi Meir it was a grape, whereas according to Rebbi Yehudah it was wheat (Sanhedrin, chap. 8, "Ben Sorer Umoreh", pgs. 70a-70b; Also see Eiruvin, chap. 1, "Mavoy Shehu Gavoa", pg. 13b, "These and those are the words of the living God". Based on this, both Rebbi Meir and Rebbi Yehudah agree. The fruit of the Eitz Hada'as intoxicates like wine and satiates like bread). This could be why, after the whole work week, the first thing we do on Shabbos is make Kiddush on a cup of wine and wash for Hamotzi over bread, the two items of the Tree of Knowledge. This demonstrates that that we are now ready to engage in Torah study since we just spent the entire week gathering Mitzvos.

The wine and bread are not just the fruits from the Tree of Knowledge, but they are intrinsically connected to wisdom. The Talmud says that when wine enters into a person, secrets come out (Eiruvin, chap. 6, "Hadar", pg. 65b). On a deeper level, this means to say that a person can tap into the secrets of Torah if he uses wine properly. Just as wine hides behind the grape, so do Torah secrets hide behind the words of scriptural verse. Thus, wine is connected to Torah wisdom. This is precisely why Rabbi Meir maintains that the Tree of KNOWLEDGE must have been the grape, because the wine from grapes increases knowledge.

Bread is also linked to wisdom because Rebbi Yehudah says that a child only begins to speak by calling out "mommy and daddy" after he tastes wheat. Wheat assists in the intellectual development of a child. This is why Rebbi Yehudah maintains that the Tree of KNOWLEDGE must have been wheat, since wheat increases knowledge (Also see Berachos, chap.6, "Keitzad Mevarchin", pg. 40a).

By drinking wine and eating bread on Friday night, we are displaying our thirst for Torah knowledge. Yet, this must follow a Mitzah filled week.

The Tzanzer Rebbe adds that Adam's mistake was that he went straight for the Tree of Knowledge before partaking from the Tree of Life. Adam was attracted to Torah wisdom. How can we blame him? Torah knowledge is amazing! However, Adam reversed the order by trying to absorb Torah wisdom without first preparing himself with the Mitzvos. Adam's knowledge surpassed his actions. Such a situation could not last.

The Shvilei Pinchas suggests that this is the meaning of Rava sitting on his hands while learning Torah. Rava was amassing huge amounts of Torah knowledge. As such he was concerned that he might fall under the category of one whose wisdom exceeds his actions. Therefore, Rava sat on his hands as a reminder that he must attempt to use his newfound information in order to increase his Mitzvos which are carried out by his hands.

Maybe, the blood flowing from Rava's hands represented that Rava was prepared to be Moser Nefesh (sacrifice) to do Mitzvos even if they are hard.

The Torah itself is called an "Eitz Hachaim" (Tree of Life) as it says, "Eitz Chaim He Lamachazikim Bah" (It is a Tree of Life to those who grasp it; Pro. 3:18). The GR"A (ibid) says that it requires two hands to grasp something completely. The two hands represent the positive and negative Mitzvos.

Perhaps we could add to that. This could be the meaning behind "Hagbaha" (lifting the Torah on days that we read from it). The two pieces of wood that we grasp onto in order to lift the Torah are called "Eitz Chaims". When lifted, the Eitz Chaims are positioned underneath the parchment. The Eitz Chaims underneath represent the roots. After all, the Tree of Life had more roots than branches. The parchment, which is positioned above the Eitz Chaims, represents the wisdom of the Tree of Knowledge which appears to grow like branches out of the Eitz HaChaims. After all, the Tree of Knowledge had more branches than roots.

When the Torah is lifted, we say the "Eitz Chaim He" verse to remind us that the roots are the Mitzvos and the branches are Torah wisdom itself.

What better week than this one to provide a "practical application?" May I suggest that after every Torah session, we say or think to ourselves, "How can I apply what I just learned?" (See the Igeres Haramban). This sole thought can trigger creativity even in areas of Torah whose applications are less obvious. In this way, our actions will grow with our knowledge, and it will preserve our knowledge.

So, may we all be blessed to live by Na'Aseh V'Nishmah and taste from the Tree of Life and from the Tree of Knowledge - in that order, and in proportionate amounts - in order that we obtain strong roots to purify our bodies, which will then be able to absorb holy Torah concepts, and thus repair - with our very hands - the mistake of Adam Harishon, and thereby return to Gan Eden Mikedem.