Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Sivan 5761 - May 23, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Torah and Happiness

We have the richest society in human history, but not the happiest. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the average American family makes 16 percent more money now than 30 years ago, but the percentage of people who described themselves as "very happy" fell from 36 percent to 29 percent.

The powerful and relentless greed that drives people around the globe to produce more and more is a harsh taskmaster. Although people are making more money, they are doing it with mesiras nefesh: they are giving of themselves to do so. They work more hours, are under more pressure at work and must perform tasks that are so demanding that they have little opportunity left to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The forces that drive the American economy are the greatest wealth-producing forces the world has seen, but they are based on constant growth. They cannot maintain an equilibrium, where everyone has enough and he or she turns his or her attention to other pursuits. Their focus is on more and more material wealth, with no attention to spiritual matters that are anyway beyond their normal areas of attention.

Even those of us who are not farmers can appreciate the wisdom of the Torah in directing farmers to take every seventh year off for contemplation and introspection. As the farmer goes daily to the beis medrash instead of his fields he has a chance to reflect on things and perhaps to reach conclusions about where to improve his life. The sabbatical forces him to recognize that the laws of the Torah are more important than the pressures of the marketplace, and he must not ignore his obligations to raise his own level and that of his family. His own life during the six working years will be profoundly different for the time spent learning Torah during shmittah.

A year of successful learning can effect a deep transformation. "One who has achieved knowledge of the Torah (meaning that the mind that was originally implanted in the soul, as a seed in the furrow of a field, was united with chochmoh to the extent that they became as one flesh) goes among people and appears as just another person -- but! In truth he is an angel who lives among mortal beings and lives a life of nobility, elevated beyond all blessings and praise." (Chazon Ish, Letters, II, 13)

Though it is the immediate climax of a process that begins on Pesach, our accepting the Torah on Shavuos is the beginning -- or the renewal -- of our lifelong study of Torah. Once we have received the Torah we are a nation, and the acceptance of Torah alone already makes us into a nation -- but we are a nation with a task. Keeping the Torah means studying it, and studying it means internalizing it, making it the mold of our minds and hearts as well as the guide for our actions. This common purpose and common effort centered around the Torah, Hashem's blueprint for our lives, brings us all together.

We are happy when we understand what we are doing and we know it to be worthwhile. Now that the West has learned how to create so much wealth, the proper thing to do, the policy that will increase happiness rather than decrease it, is to use the wealth to increase Torah and not just to pamper our bodies. We cannot influence the culture of the West, but we can do it for ourselves. Let us reiterate our commitment of Na'aseh venishma and get to work.

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