The Gemara (Shabbos 88a) relates a story. An apikorus observed Rava while he was studying Torah. He saw that Rava was so deeply engrossed in the sugya he was learning, that he didn’t realize he was sitting on top of his finger and it was spurting blood as a result of the pressure.
This apikorus criticized the holy amora, Rava. He said to him: “You impulsive and reckless nation who accepted the Torah by placing your mouth before your ears. And you now still cling to that same recklessness! Before accepting the Torah, you should have first found out what it entails. Then, you could have made an educated decision. If you had concluded that you were able to follow it, you would have accepted it, and if you were not able to follow it, you would not have accepted it.”
Rava answered the apikorus, “We walk with Hashem with a simple, trusting, and loving heart. About us it says, ‘tumas yeshorim tancheim — the integrity and completeness of the upright will guide them.’ However, regarding scheming and deceptive people (such as apikorsim like you), it says, ‘v’selef bogdim yeshodeim — the perverseness of the betrayers will destroy them.’”
This gleefully smug and intellectually inclined apikorus thought that he finally found his moment to show Rava how “his nation” — the Torah Jews, lived their life without regard for the world around them. “Look,” he told Rava, “you don’t even realize how you are hurting yourself right at this moment because of your blind love for Torah. You haven’t changed a bit from back when Hashem offered you the Torah and you paid no attention to the consequences. You just jumped in and ‘put your mouth before your ears.’”
Rava answered that what the apikorus saw as a weakness is really our greatest strength. We walk with Hashem with love, and we trust Him that He will not burden us with something we are unable to withstand (Rashi). We say in davening, “Ba’avur avoseinu shebotchu vecho, vatlamdeim chukei chaim la’asos retzonecha.” Hashem, in fact, gave us the Torah because of our trust in Him.
The apikorus argued that the Jewish people should have told Hashem, wait! First, we must commission a feasibility study. We have to see how likely it is that we will be able to fulfill what the Torah says. Only after conducting a thorough investigation may we move ahead. We mustn’t rush, rather we have to take the cerebral approach.
And Rava told him that he got it all pathetically wrong. Our acceptance of the Torah took place at the time when we threw ourselves behind Hashem with complete faith. Lechteich acharai bamidbar b’eretz lo ziru’ah. We followed Hashem with fire and love. The apikorus, the schemer, would have warned us that under no circumstances may we leave on the way before making a Walmart order with enough provisions to last us for all our time on the road. But we, instead, walked with trust in our Father in Heaven, and knew that it was He Who was caring for us and He would not lead us astray.
And the schemers will continue to scheme and scheme, and ultimately become their own greatest victims. V’selef bogdim yeshodeim their schemes and betrayals will destroy them.
My father showed that there is another layer to this yesod in the beginning of Parshas Yisro. Parshas Yisro begins by teaching us that Yisro came to Klal Yisroel and saw Moshe working from morning until night teaching Torah and judging personal disagreements. Yisro told Moshe that this way is not sustainable. “You will become worn out”, he told Moshe. “Instead, you should set up a system where disagreements are assigned to judges of various levels of stature, and only the most complicated cases come to you”. Moshe accepted the suggestion and put the system into place.
My father said that we must ask ourselves a question. Can we possibly say that Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t know that there was no way for one person to judge every disagreement over a shaveh prutah in the entire Klal Yisroel? Will we delude ourselves into thinking that only Yisro, because he previously led an organized system of government in a different land, knew how to set up such a system but Moshe did not know how to? Of course not! So what then is the answer? Why didn’t Moshe himself set up an organized system which would work properly?
My father answered that as explained earlier, Torah must be accepted and taught with love and fire. Without love, trust, fire, and commitment, there is no Torah and we are not the Am Hashem. Moreover, as we see from the story of Rava in the gemara in Shabbos, every moment of learning Torah and keeping mitzvos has to be connected with that same fire of na’aseh venishma.
And by definition, some of that fire would be lost as a result of planning, and organization, with systems and order. Moshe was busy from morning until night, with dedication, devotion, love, and fire, never stopping to serve Hashem and Klal Yisroel by teaching Torah, for even a moment.
Was an organized system necessary? Of course, it was. But that contribution needed to come from Yisro. The fire of Torah and avodas Hashem itself had to remain as powerful as ever.
The apikorus who tried to do battle with Rava unwittingly touched on this secret itself. He told Rava, “You still cling to that same impulsiveness you had when you placed your mouths before your ears at the time of Mattan Torah.” And Rava told him, you have no problem tolerating Torah as long as it is not amidst faith, love, and trust, and fire.
We have to realize that this struggle remains alive, very much inside the heart and mind of a Yid in every generation. Do we become ashamed in front of people who profess to know better than us about the world around us? Do we wonder if there’s some undiscovered wisdom and beauty out there? Do we have to listen to the voice telling us that we should seek balance from the wrong sources?
When any such voice speaks to us, we have an answer taught to us by Rava. “We walk with Hashem with a simple, trusting, and loving heart. About us it says, ‘Tumas yeshorim tancheim — the integrity and completeness of the upright will guide them.’ However, regarding scheming and deceptive people it says, ‘v’selef bogdim yeshodeim — the perverseness of the betrayers will destroy them.’” Just look for the people who were unsatisfied with the fire of Torah in the past. Where are they now?