“Resh Lakish said: Whence do we learn that words of Torah are firmly held by one who kills himself for it? Because it says, This is the Torah, when a man shall die in the tent.”
(Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 63b)
While studying this week’s Torah Portion (Chukat/Chukas), I came to the this passage:
זֹאת הַתּוֹרָה אָדָם כִּי־יָמוּת בְּאֹהֶל
This is the law when someone dies in a tent (Numbers 19:14a)
It reminded me of the lessons I had learned from Artscroll’s A Daily Dose of Torah (ADDT) regarding this passage. Although this passage is literally about the law regarding the transfer of corpse impurity to anyone under the roof the same roof as a corpse, it is understood midrashically from the Hebrew to be a lesson about one who would “kill himself for the sake of Torah.” As the passage in Berachot 63b says, “the words of Torah are firmly held by one who kills himself for it.” Or as ADDT phrases it, “Torah remains only with one who kills himself for it.” And, as a reminder for the literal-minded, they clarify that it is not that one is to endanger one’s life for the sake of Torah. It is rather that we must restrict our personal pleasures, and sacrifice of our time in order to make the time for study so that the lessons of Torah will be impressed upon us with a lasting impression.
From the moment I learned this a few years back, this has spoken to me. However, this week it speaks even louder. Due to some undisclosed circumstances, over the last year or more, my guiding philosophy has been:
“For in much wisdom is much vexation,and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18)
I have kept up with my studies just enough to give my family some direction, but nothing more. I have not “died in my tent.” I’ve only been in survival mode. However, during Shavuot of this year Hashem spoke to my heart and said that I must get back on course and “die in my tent” for His sake. I must put aside all of the coping mechanisms (distractions) with which I have been filling my life. I must “die to myself” in order to truly live, and become who He has intended for me to become.
“When I die and face the heavenly court,” the Hassidic Rabbi Zusha famously said, “if they ask me why I was not more like Abraham, I will say that I didn’t have Abraham’s intellectual abilities. If they say, ‘Why weren’t you more like Moses?’ then I will explain that I did not have Moses’ talent for leadership. For every such question I will have an answer, but if they say, ‘Zusha, why were you not Zusha?’ for that I will have no answer.”
Since Shavuot, I have been studying with renewed fervor. I have been a lot more consistent in my studying, and more engaged with the Holy Text. I’ve also been gleaning from other sources, and studying them more carefully as well. Although I still have a nagging trepidation, I am looking forward with anticipation to what Hashem is going to do in my life as I surrender to Him.
Will I ever become who I was intended to become? Will you? Maybe it is time for both of us to “die in our tents” together.