a fish out of water : learning to breathe

Lest my previous post a finer flesh, lead some people astray, I present a short discussion of the importance of Torah and the importance of the books of Torah.

Rebbe Akiva teaches the romans a lesson about Torah: (via Aish.com)

In the first century, the Romans tried to obliterate Judaism and made the study of Torah illegal. Rebbe Akiva could not bear the idea of abandoning Torah, so he gathered together his disciples and taught them Torah. Pappus ben Yehuda came and found Rebbe Akiva teaching Torah publicly. He asked: "Akiva, are you not afraid of the government

Rebbe Akiva replied: "I will explain to you with a parable:"

A fox was once walking alongside a river, and he saw the fish going in swarms from one place to another. The fox said to them: "From what are you fleeing?"

The fish replied: "From the fishermen's nets."

The fox said: "Would you like to come onto dry land?"

The fish replied: "Are you the one that they call the cleverest of animals? You are foolish! If we are afraid in the element where we live, how much more so in the element where we would die!"

Rebbe Akiva explained: "So too with Jews. It is written: '[The Torah] is your life and the length of your days.' If we neglect it, how much worse off will we be?

Everyone seems to take away from this the lesson, "Torah is like water, without it Jews could not live". That's not really the lesson, if you stop to think about it, the lesson is really: Torah is like Air. If we don't have air, our brain dies within a few minutes, and our body just after that.

We can live for a few days without water. Similarly, people think Torah is water, figure a few days or years without it is ok, anyways I get water from other food. We can survive without drinking water as long as we consume other food that contains water, right? So too, science contains Torah, literature contains Torah, in fact, everything that was ever created contains Torah so I don't really need Torah.

Nobody says, "hey there's air in coke bubbles, I'll just drink coke, I don't need to breathe." or "Hey we can just oxygenate our food and then we don't have to breathe anymore." It doesn't work like that. A minute without air and our faces are turning red, blue, and purple. Torah is air. Without it we die. period. Don't put off Torah if you wouldn't put off breathing.

Now let's take this a level deeper. (What's the deal with all these books? --we'll get to that but first) Who gives us breath? We praise HaShem every morning for putting the breath back into us, returning our neshama, our soul, which he blew into our bodies when we were first created. Our breath is the breath of God. When we use that breath to form words, we can use that creative power that is clothed within our words for either good or bad, that is the choice God gave us by giving us breath. Edgar allen poe once wrote an essay about The Power of Words. In which he explained the butterfly effect, and how every spoken word is akin to the beat of butterfly wings and so, the physical act of our speech affects the entire world. How much more so, when we realize butterfly wings simply beat the air, whereas our speech originates from the breath of God.

When we learn Torah, any sefer that was written by any Jew l'shmah (for the sake of Torah), we are breathing the breath of HaShem into those words of Torah, just as God breathed a soul into man. We are bringing that Jew who wrote those words to life. This is one of the many reasons that Tzaddikim never die. Not only the tzaddik who wrote the words, but the souls of all the Jews who are connected to that Tzaddik and to those letters, and through them, all the Jews, since we are all connected one to another. We find, that when one Jew learns Torah, all Jews are given tremendous life, the whole world is filled with new vitality. (There are so many reasons that this is so, that this is not the medium or the place to begin.)

Anyone who looks at Torah and sees books, doesn't see the emet, the truth. Anyone who looks at Torah and sees a living breathing people, a world full of life, they are seeing half a truth. Anyone who looks at the Torah and looses her/himself in awe at Hashem's works, that is the beginning of the truth of Torah. ראשית חכמה יראת השם - Fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom.

You gave your children life, it's only fair you teach them to breathe. This is my prayer to you and to HaShem.


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