[Avodah] What are the main mitzvos to focus on?

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Tue Dec 5 09:02:00 PST 2017

On Tue, Dec 05, 2017 at 11:10:14AM +0200, Marty Bluke wrote:
: So basically you are saying that the current Charedi hashkafa/lifestyle of
: Torah only and Torah learning being the ultimate purpose of life is not a
: majority opinion in Chazal and in fact you can't find anyone among Chazal
: who says this.

I intentionally avoided stating it that confrontationally, but yes.

Although not "chareidi", "yeshivish". Excluding most chassidim but including
the large population of MO who are taking yeshivish hashkafah and harmonizing
it with modernity. (Eg RYBS as understood by many of his students.)

See, for example, R Tzevi Sinsky's currently running series
out of YHE ("Gush") "Talmud Torah: The Mitzva of Torah Study".
<http://etzion.org.il/en/topics/talmud-torah-mitzva-torah-study> He
draws heavily from R' Yehudah Amital and R' N Lamm (whom RZS calls
"mori uzeqeini"); his perspective is that of DL and MO, not "chareidim".

Here's the web abstract for the opening shiur:
   In this introductory shiur, we explore the centrality of Torah study in
   the thought of the Rabbis. From Noach to Ezra, prominent Jewish leaders
   throughout the biblical period are portrayed as Torah scholars, and
   this mitzva is ascribed paramount importance in every aspect of life.

In particular, shiur 3 discusses the purpose of talmud Torah, discussing
various approached. The section "Approach #1 -- Instrumentalism" quotes
pesuqim, mishayos, Toseftra, gemaros, before getting to rishonim (Rashi,
Rambam, Ramban, Chinukh, Me'iri, Or H'. See also RNSlifkin's long list
of quotes from rishonim at

In contrast, "Approach #2 -- Cultivating a Halakhic Ethos" opens with
the Chazon Ish then mentions R' Chaim Brisker as desribed in Halakhic Man.

"Approach #3 -- Variations on Deveikut" starts with the Rambam leveraging
a Sifrei (who I do not see as giving their description of /the/ purpose
of learning), but focuses on Chassidus, R' Kook and R' Amital.

Notice that learning being primarily valuable instrumentally is the shitah
for which RZS can find overwhelming evidence in chazal and rishonim,
the others being johnny-come-latelies of the last centuries.

As for my own opinion, I wouldn't call approach #2 the cultivation of a
"halachic ethos". I think this reflects Brisk's tendency to conflate
halakhah with kol haTorah kulah, downplaying the import of aggadita.
And yet, this wording does emphasize how approach 1 includes approach 2.
If we are obligated in hilkhos dei'os / chovos halvavos / ve'asisa
hayashar vehatov / to develop a *Torah* ethos, then #2 is also

We learn Mes' Sukkah to know how to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah, and
we learn Mes' Pirqei Avos to know to to fulfill the mitzvah of vehalakhta
bidrakhav. See, it's instrumental!

The difference boils down to what I believe was the central chiluq behind
the pulmus haMussar:

In the Brisker worldview, when RCVolozhiner compares talmud Torah to immersion
in a miqvah, he means it descriptively. Learn halakhah as an end in itself,
an it will leave a roshem of taharah. Even if the causality involved is
mystical and non-obvious.

Whereas R Yisrael Salanter looked at the actual metzi'us of the society he
was in -- and all the moreso ours -- and concluded that this couldn't have
been RCV's intent. Rather, RCV was speaking descriptively; when one learns
correctly, one is learning in a way that leaves a roshem of taharah,
even if the material itself is never understood or gets forgotten.
And RYS had the lifestyle of RCV's talmid, R' Zundel Salanter, as
indication of what Nefesh haChaim was intending to describe.

Thus, to a mussarist, RCV was describing how to learn. Don't just learn
nega'im to find chiluqim with which to explain machloqesin and non-obvious
dinim. Rather, in addition one must spend the time driving home the roshem
of how bad LH and ga'avah are, that HQBH felt it worth aiding teshuvah
in these areas.

And those two topics are far more connected in Telzher derekh than Brisker,
but I think I've ranged far enough.

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             Spirituality is like a bird: if you tighten
micha at aishdas.org        your grip on it, it chokes; slacken your grip,
http://www.aishdas.org   and it flies away.
Fax: (270) 514-1507                            - Rav Yisrael Salanter

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