30 - Situations - If a person's deeds outweigh his wisdom, his wisdom will endure

We must intend to immediately put everything that we learn into practice. Rashi explains that when a person's knowledge is not theoretical, he fulfills the goal of the Torah, that its teachings be carried out.

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Situations

Lesson #30

PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS


If a person’s deeds outweigh his wisdom, his wisdom will endure

כל שמעשיו מרבין מחכמתו

KolShe’Ma’asav M’rubin May’Chachmaso


Perek Gimmul, Mishnos Yud Bais and Chaf Bais


 

Story(based on a true story)

All the lines at the grocery store were at least three carts deep when I approached with my full cart, so I chose one and pulled out a sippy-cup for my baby.  While she drank, I pulled out my phone and made a couple of calls about a shiur I give once a month, and then checked in with my friend Shira who had promised to tell me a funny story.   

By then, there was only one person in front of me and she was haggling over the price of something while waving a coupon.  I sighed as the cashier called the manager over and asked Shira, “Why do these things always happen to me?  I’ve got a slow cashier and the woman in front of me is making a fuss over a price.  I’m definitely going to be late to pick up Shlomo from playgroup.”  The woman turned to look at me, so I looked back to my cart and realized that I had forgotten the applesauce Shlomo eats at lunch.  Coupon-lady was still busy with the manager, so I quickly grabbed the baby and ran to get them from six aisles over.

When I got back to my cart, it was pushed forward and next to the conveyor belt.   Coupon-lady was gone, and I squeezed myself and my baby past the woman behind me and started to unload my groceries.  The woman behind me drummed her fingers as I took one item at a time while still holding my baby and continuing to talk to Shira.  I finally finished up, put the baby back in the cart, and paid, telling Shira that I might actually be on time if I rushed.  I sped out the door, just barely missing a man who was heading toward the exit and receiving a death stare.  I was making a hurried beeline toward my car when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Excuse me,” said a woman who looked familiar.  “My name is Sarah, and we once did a Mommy and Me music class together.”  I recognized her.  She was the only non-frum woman in the class, and had been excited to give her young son some time with other Jewish kids before he was old enough to start Hebrew school on Sundays.  I said hello and that it was nice to see her, but that I really had to go.

 “Yes, but just one minute,” she said.  “I remember that you know a lot and you taught me a lot, so thank you.  But I was in the aisle next to you and I thought that maybe I could teach you that when you talk on the phone in a store all of the people around you can hear you, including the cashier, and the people in front of and behind you.”

Wow.  I adjusted my tichel and stared down at my shoes and said, “I guess so.”  

She continued, “Also, it’s nice to say hello to the cashier, and not to make people wait while you leave your cart, and not cut people off just because you’re in a rush.  I figured that someone who’s giving Torah classes would know that, but maybe that’s not in there.  I know you’re in a rush, so goodbye.”  And she was gone.

I walked to my car in a daze.  Wow, and wow again.  I had messed up.  I had made a chillul HaShem.  Who knew if this woman would ever respect a frum Jew again, or even the Torah.  But then I realized that I had a more personal problem.  My behavior today was not a fluke.  Yes, I gave monthly shiurim to women in my community and had a weekly phone chavrusa as well to teach someone who was learning about Judaism.  I spent a lot of time preparing my material and had amassed a pretty big knowledge base to access for teaching.  But how often did I use it to teach myself?

I knew when to ask a sha’aila if I messed up in the kitchen, and would throw something out if I needed to.  I knew how to check vegetables.  I knew when to wonder if something was allowed on Shabbos.  But it didn’t seem to occur to me to apply my knowledge of ben adam l’chavairo to respecting others in the store.  I just didn’t think about the effects of my being absorbed in my loud phone conversations and of what I said, or the effect of my rushing on others.  I wasn’t walking the walk of a frum Jew when it came to respecting others.  Yes, it would be hard to be more aware and change my behavior, but who was I if I didn’t?

I resolved that I would work harder on my actions, starting with three small goals:  hang up the phone when it’s my turn for checkout, talk softly when I’m on the phone, and no running in a store.  I hoped that my focus would slowly change my need to grumble about those around me and increase my awareness of other people’s needs because I want to be that person I read to my kids about and teach my chavrusa about; the one who is a complete Jew who both learns and does.

Pirkay Avos

"הוא היה אומר:  כל שמעשיו מרבין מחכמתו חכמתו מתקימת ..."

"Hu (Rabi Chanina ben Dosa) haya omer:  Kol she’ma’asav m’rubin may’chachmaso, chachmaso miskayumes".

"He used to say say:  If a person’s deeds outweigh his wisdom, his wisdom will endure...". (Perek Gimmul, Yud Bais).

"הוא היה אומר:  כל שחכמתו מרבה ממעשיו למה הוא דומה לאילן שענפיו מרבין ושרשיו מועטין והרוח באה ועוקרתו והופכתו על פניו...אבל כל שמעשיו מרבין מחכמתולמה הוא דומה לאילן שענפיו מועטיןושרשיומרביןשאפילו כל הרוחות שבעולם באות ונושבות בו אין מזיזין אותו ממקומו..."

"Hu (Rabi Elazar ben Azarya) haya omer, kol she’chachmasomiruba mima’asav, l’mah hu domeh?  L’ilan she’anafav m’rubin v’sho’ro’shav mu’atin, v’haru’ach ba’a v’okarto v’hofachto al panav…Aval kol she’ma’asav m’rubin mai’chachmaso, li’ma hu do’meh, l’ilan she’anafav mu’atin v’shoroshav m’rubin, she’afilu kol haruchos she’ba’olam ba’os v’no’sh’vos bo, ain m’zeezin o’so mi’m’komo…"

"He used to say, If a person’s wisdom is greater than his deeds, to what is he likened?  To a tree with many branches and few roots, which the wind comes and uproots and turns upon its face…But if a person’s deeds are greater than his knowledge, to what is he likened?  To a tree with few branches and many roots, so that even if all the winds in the world were to come and blow upon it they would not move it from its place. "(Perek Gimmul, Chaf Bais).

How can a person’s deeds outweigh his wisdom?  Can a person perform mitzvos if he is not aware of them or how to perform them?  Rabbainu Yona explains that the mishna means to point out the proper attitude toward Torah learning.  We must intend to immediately put everything that we learn into practice.  Rashi explains that when a person’s knowledge is not theoretical, he fulfills the goal of the Torah, that its teachings be carried out.

According to one approach, the mishna is praising the individual who is able to perform numerous good deeds because of his determination to utilize his wisdom for the primary purpose of doing HaShem’s will.  Such an individual will merit retaining his wisdom.  On the other hand, an individual who performs good deeds for the sole purpose that he merit increased wisdom will not retain such wisdom.  This individual is suffering from confused priorities, perceiving wisdom as an objective in itself, whereas, in reality, it is only valuable as a means of serving HaShem.

Rambam and other commentators add when a person habituates himself to perform mitzvos, his soul develops a love for good deeds.  When a person studies the laws in order to put them into practice, he will surely concentrate and analyze to be sure he understands thoroughly what to do and how to do. 

The branches of a tree are nurtured by its roots.  That being the case, the analogy that the mishna presents appears awkward, i.e. that a person’s deeds sustain his wisdom.  Only by gaining wisdom can a person act appropriately.  But the analogy does hold.   Proper actions must be at the root of a person’s being.  Even before the tree has grown, before a person’s wisdom expands and blossoms, the goal must already be set:  to engage in proper deeds.

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

Discussion Question Options:

In what ways do we often learn or know more than we act?

How do positive actions reinforce our Torah knowledge?

Can our negative actions negate the value of our Torah knowledge?  Can it appear that way to others?  If so, what can we do about it?

Stretch of the Week:

Do an act of courtesy for someone during the course of your day.

 

Stretch Of The Week