January 6, 2022

Megillah 6

Today’s daf (Megillah 6b) contains a blunt yet important teaching by Rabbi Yitzchak that I often cite:
‘If someone tells you יגעתי ולא מצאתי – I endeavoured [in Torah] and did not find [success] אל תאמין – do not believe them. If they say לא יגעתי ומצאתי – I did not endeavour [in Torah] but nevertheless found [success] אל תאמין – do not believe them. [But if they say] יגעתי ומצאתי – I endeavoured [in Torah] and found [success], תאמין – believe them.’
To begin with, while not so much is known about Rabbi Yitzchak – who was a 4th generation Tanna (i.e. he was active around 110-135ce) – we do know that he travelled from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael in order to learn Torah, and this fact either may be illustrative of, or may even be the basis for, his insistence that success in Torah study requires effort and endeavour.
Personally, and as I noted in my responses to a series of questions that I was asked by Simon Brooke earlier this year (see https://bit.ly/3yCUMjN), I think that we don’t stress the concepts of עמלות (toiling) in Torah sufficiently in the modern period, and though there are many tools now available – both in print and online – to help people learn, ownership of what we learn ultimately comes from investment in our learning. As such, I am broadly in agreement with Rabbi Yitzchak – which is why this teaching is one that I often cite.
Nevertheless, as I previously noted, this teaching may be one that some people – and especially those who’ve struggled to be successful in Torah study – find hard to hear. Simply put, what does it mean to endeavour? It is with this in mind that I’d like to offer a perspective about יגיעה (endeavour) which I think may be useful to all those who wish to succeed in Torah study. And to do so, I’d like to begin with a verse from Sefer Mishlei.
We are taught in Mishlei 7:4: אֱמֹר לַחָכְמָה אֲחֹתִי אָתְּ – ‘say to wisdom (Torah) that you are my sister’, – which our Sages explain to mean that we should relate to Torah like a sibling or close friend. As Rav Soloveitchik explains, ‘to become a lamdan you must look at the Torah as an individual – a living personality’ (Shiurei HaRav p. 182). Understood this way, I would like to define יגיעה as the effort we would invest in order to find a long-lost sibling, or to reconnect with a best friend with whom we’ve somehow lost contact. And if a person puts in that effort, especially with the tools nowadays at our disposal, we will likely be successful.
Yet while this sounds nice, it is important to note that while most of us would love to find a long-lost sibling or reconnect with a best friend, the fact is that sometimes, though we say we want to be successful in Torah, our yearning is not as strong as we say it is – which may be a factor why some of us give up too early in our search.
It is in this spirit that I’d like to share a questions and answer posed by Rav Tzvi Lopian zt’l (noted in ‘Kuntress Zichron Tzvi’ printed at the back of Lev Eliyahu Vol. 2) about the blessings we recite before studying Torah. Specifically, R’ Lopian asks why the blessings on the Torah only include a singular request that God ‘make the words of our Torah sweet in our mouth and in the mouth of Your people’. Why, he asks, don’t they also include the request found elsewhere in our prayers ‘to understand and discern, to listen, learn, and teach, to observe, perform and fulfil all the teachings of Your Torah in love’?
Rav Lopian answers that embedded in the request for the Torah to be sweet is the request for all the rest – which I believe is further addressed by the Vilna Gaon (in Even Shelema 7:6) who states that ‘if someone wishes to toil in Torah, they should feel the sweetness, for through doing so they will achieve a true love of Torah.’
Given all this, if someone were to ask me how to succeed in Torah, I would say: Love the Torah like it is a sibling or a best friend. Believe that by connecting to Torah – just like by connecting with a sibling or best friend – your life will be sweetened immeasurably. Pray to God to find and to achieve sweetness in Torah. And search for Torah using whatever tools are available the way you’d search for a long-lost sibling or a best friend with whom you’ve somehow lost contact. And if you do all this, with the help of God you’ll find what you are looking for.
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