Parshas Behar-Bechukosai (5770)
In the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai, the Torah states: "If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time ..." (Leviticus 26:3)
The verse seems to be repetitious. What is the difference between "following My decrees" and "observing My commandments"?
Rashi, the great Bible commentator, explains, based on the Oral Tradition, that "following My decrees" - which is read in Hebrew bechukosai tay-laychu - means that we should toil in Torah study, whereas the next words in the verse refer to the performance of the actual commandments.
The idea being conveyed to us here is that if we want to find real meaning and pleasure in our Judaism and in the performance of the commandments, we must first take the time to study and toil in Torah, in order to gain a deeper appreciation for all that the Torah can do to help make our lives more spiritually enriching and satisfying.
Well, all that is great and wonderful ... but today, in the fast-paced, channel-surfing, microwave-quick world in which we live, many of us no longer seem to have the time or the patience to read the newspaper or to sit around the dinner table and chat with our families, let alone spend time toiling in Torah study!
You see, we are living in the "soundbite generation". If it can be packaged in a five-second quip, a brief headline, or a thirty-minute sitcom, we can handle it. But if it requires extended time and study …. well, then, thanks, but no thanks.
The truth is, though, that soundbites have been around since time immemorial. Some of the greatest (and sometimes not so great) wisdom of the ages has been passed on to us in the form of short, pithy proverbs.
Here is a brief selection of soundbites that, although small in size, speak volumes in terms of content:
"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools talk because they have to say something." - Plato
"Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever." - Napoleon
"When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on." - Thomas Jefferson
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” - Soren Kierkegaard
"Wise men don't need advice. Fools don't take it." - Benjamin Franklin
"Many people would sooner die than think. In fact they do." - Bertrand Russell
“If we have our own ‘why’ of life, we can bear almost any ‘how’.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” - Oscar Wilde
"An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows." - Dwight David Eisenhower
“Pain is G-d’s megaphone to wake up the world.” - C.S. Lewis
"Try not to become a man of success, but rather, try to become a man of value." - Albert Einstein
"Never expect to steal third base while keeping one foot on second." - Anonymous
"If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman." - Margaret Thatcher
"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain." - Dolly Parton
“There are many more people trying to meet the right person than to become the right person.” - Gloria Steinem
"Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken." - Warren Buffet
“At age 20, we worry about what others think of us.
At 40, we don't care what they think of us.
At 60, we discover they haven't been thinking about us at all.” - Jock Falkson
"Happiness isn't getting what you want, it's wanting what you got." - Garth Brooks
PROFOUNDBITES FROM THE SAGES
As you can well imagine, the Jewish people have also contributed their share of wise, witty and whimsical soundbites and proverbs.
In fact, the Talmud – that huge repository of Jewish law, tradition, philosophy, ethics, and lore that Jews have been studying for the past 1500 years – contains many such profound “soundbites” and catchy sayings.
There is one particular Torah sage, however, who was truly the master of the Torah soundbite. He is none other than Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the great Talmudic scholar and Tzaddik, who is best known as the founder of the Mussar (Jewish Ethics and Character Refinement) Movement in the mid-19th century.
Below is a sampling of some of the penetratingly deep “profoundbites” of this great sage:
"In your heart, which is the size of a handbreadth, you can understand the entire world."
"Character is man's only real possession."
"When a man proclaims that G-d is One [during the Shema], he bears in mind that G-d is King of the entire world - but forgets to make G-d King over himself."
"A man lives with himself for seventy years - yet he does not know himself."
"A person gives everything away for a small whistle - and in the end, it doesn't work."
"Writing is one of the easiest things in the world; erasing, one of the hardest."
"A rabbi whom the people do not want to chase out of the city is no rabbi; and a rabbi who can be chased out of the city is no man."
"The world says: If you can't go through, then you have to go back. But I say: If you can't go through - then you still have to get through!"
"One does not have to say everything that one thinks; nor write everything that one says; nor publish everything that one writes."
"There is no greater illness than despair."
"A person running to do a mitzvah can destroy the world on his way."
"When confronting an issue, judge it thinking, 'How would I deal with this during Neila on Yom Kippur?' "
"A little sense drowns in a sea of desires."
"One who wants to be higher than others should not dig a pit under them, but lift himself up."
"Man has the power to see great distances. However, a little coin blurs his vision."
- Rabbi Yisrael Salanter
So although there is no substitute for the “real thing” that G-d asks of us – spending serious time each day studying the Torah in order to understand the inner depth and meaning of the mitzvos and to appreciate the true beauty of a Torah lifestyle – taking just a few minutes out of our day to dwell on a thought-provoking soundbite or two can go a long way in helping us maintain the proper balance and spiritual focus that we so desperately need.
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