The Torah Teaches Us How to Think

From – The Path of the BT by Rav Itamar Shwartz.

As we mentioned, a person is divided in general, into three parts: actions, feelings, and thoughts. Often a person’s feelings seem very positive to him, even as his outward actions tell a different story. How many secular Jews say, “In my heart, I serve the Creator. I am a good Jew.” He helps everybody, even thieves. In his heart a person thinks that if he has good feelings, everything is fine.

Chazal said,[7] “Anyone who is compassionate to those who are cruel, will end up being cruel to those who are compassionate.” But what can I do if I feel in my heart that it’s good to be kind to those who are cruel as well? Is that a good feeling, or not? According to my logic, is it good to have mercy on a cruel person? Sure. Such a person is the most miserable person around. He is cruel! He is terribly unfortunate.

But Chazal teach us that a person should not always go where his natural instincts may lead him. The emotions need another source of direction. How do I know which feelings are positive and which are negative? According to how it seems to me? Not at all. If there is no brain, then the heart is not a true heart either. The emotions, too, are not the proper emotions. In order to know whether our feelings are correct, we need to learn, and if we learn, we will know what our feelings should be. In that case, let us begin with the learning.

An average person living in our world, whose place is not in the beis medrash, who is not part of the Torah world, barely uses his mind. A majority of people, obviously, think about what to do, what not to do, when to get up, when to buy things and what to buy, but the brain is barely put to use. A small percentage of people study in various institutions of learning, and their brains are also at work. But how long do they “stay in” learning? Two or three years, maybe even four or five? During the course of a lifetime, are they constantly learning? It is very rare to find, in the outside world, people whose brains are working at learning during their entire lifetimes. In the best case scenario, they may be learning for several years.

On the other hand, a person who sits in the beis medrash, his brain must continue to toil until his dying day. There is never a time when he is exempt from studying Torah. Whether he is young or old, whether he is healthy or ill, as the Rambam[8] says, he must learn Torah until the day he dies.

In order to understand this, we first need to understand the power of Torah learning. So long as a person is on the outside of the Torah world, he has no inkling that to become part of that world involves building a world of the intellect.

He thinks that to become a baal teshuvah means to do whatever must be done. Whatever the Rav tells him to do, he’ll do. It would be wonderful if everyone did that! But that’s only a small part of becoming a baal teshuvah. You cannot remain bound to the Rav like a child tied to his mother’s apron strings; obeying everything he says. In the beginning he will tell you what to do, but little by little, you must build and begin to think yourself.

When you enter the world of Torah, it’s not only a change in what to do and what not to do, as we mentioned earlier. An additional, basic change (that must be made) is to understand that “Yisroel were His first thoughts to be created.”[9] Chazal said, “Who did Hashem, so to speak, think of to create first? The Jewish Nation.”

In other words, the power of the Jewish nation is that they are ‘the first of the thought.’ They are the true power of thought that exists in Creation! That is the secret of the holy Torah; that it is the wisdom of the Creator, given specifically to the Jewish nation.

The Torah is made up of three parts. One part of Torah is the commandments that a Jew must fulfill. That is the aspect of fulfilling the Torah in action. The second part of Torah is to study it. The Torah is wisdom, it is a body of knowledge. The third part of Torah is to build the emotions based on true thought patterns.

Entrance into the world of Torah is, on the one hand, entrance into a world of action. What must I do, and what is forbidden to me? That is true. But another part of the world into which he has entered, which is often unclear at the beginning of the path, and is also often unclear in the middle of the way, and even sometimes until the end, is that he has entered a world that builds the power of thought in a person.

It is clear that entrance to the world of Torah means building something new in the brain. This is similar to building a new home. Everyone, upon entering the world of Torah, whether he is a young child growing up, or someone who has led a superficial existence, and then enters into it, must understand one principle. On the one hand, we must build up our active fulfillment of the laws– what is permitted, what is forbidden, what are we obligated to do. On the other hand, he is building a new home! In the words of the passuk,[10] “Through wisdom is a house built.” In a deep sense, building the mind of a person is like building a home inside of him.

To build a brain means that a person understands, first of all, that the business of Torah is not only to learn in order to do, although it is the main thing. In addition, however, he understands that he learns in order to build his intellect.