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Spiritual Math: Sometimes Basic Math Just Doesn't Add Up

Torah Thoughts on Parshas Shoftim by Ari Cohen

"אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי" שִׁיר הַשִׁירִים ו':ג'

"I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me." Shir HaShirim 6:3

Now that we are officially in the month of Elul, it is an auspicious time to look for ways to improve our yiras shomayim and avodas Hashem. Hashem is yearning for us to take steps to get closer to Him, but He wants us to take the first steps. This is the implication of the famous acronym of Elul, Ani l'dodi v'dodi li – when I approach or am dedicated to my beloved, Hashem, then He will reciprocate.

The Mesilas Yesharim writes (Ch. 25) that the only way to acquire yiras shomayim is by constant contemplation and internalizing that since Hashem is omnipresent, He is aware of all of our actions. He then records them for eternity. The Ramchal acknowledges that while this concept seems simple, the actual implementation of this contemplation and internalization is very difficult to attain unless we are diligent, focused, and persistent in our pursuit of yiras shomayim. He learns from the commandment in this week’s parashah that a king must carry a Sefer Torah with him at all times – 'לְמַעַן יִלְמַד לְיִרְאָה אֶת ה, that in order to fear Hashem, one must have the Torah with him constantly. Any distraction which would divert a person’s focus from being attached to the Torah at all times will curtail one’s ability to acquire yiras shomayim. Although the commandment to have the Sefer Torah with him at all times was given to a king, this concept applies to everyone, figuratively. The Torah specifies a king because he is so busy with his other responsibilities, and yet even he must be laser-focused on the Torah and its principles, kal v'chomer this commandment applies to a person who is not a king.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz (Sichos Mussar Ma'amar 30) says that just as distractions prevent us from increasing our levels of yiras shomayim, as the Ramchal taught, they are also the cause blocking us from achieving greater levels in other areas of spirituality. He brings the famous story of Rabbi Akiva as proof. Rabbi Akiva returned home to his wife after 12 years of learning in yeshiva. When he heard his wife tell someone that she wishes her husband would learn for an additional twelve years, he immediately returned to the yeshiva without even knocking on the door of his home. Would it have hurt to say hello to his wife and thank her for allowing him to learn for so many years? Would it have hurt to have a home-cooked meal and then head back to the yeshiva? Indeed, Rabbi Akiva felt that it would have hurt his learning to have even a small break, and what he was able to accomplish by returning for another 12 years, he would not have accomplished had he taken even a small break. What made Rabbi Akiva so great is that he learned consecutively for 24 years – not for two 12-year periods. In terms of spiritual growth, 12+12 does NOT equal 24. Similarly, a 45-minute Shacharis or chevrusa or shiur, if it is interrupted twice by phone calls, texts, or emails, winds up being 3 intervals of approximately 15 minutes, rather than one consecutive period of 45 minutes of ruchniyus, which, in terms of spiritual growth, is not the same.

Perhaps we might consider these lessons this Elul as we prepare for the Y'mai HaDin: (1) Yiras Shomayim is difficult to attain and requires a constant and consistent focus. (2) Do we have the Torah’s teachings and values in mind at all times? (3) Distractions are the greatest impediment to success in ruchniyus. How can we eliminate or at least minimize them to the greatest extent?

May we all be zoche to the fulfillment of Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li. Wishing everyone a k'sivah v'chasimah tovah.


Ari Cohen graduated from FYHS in 1987. He was a member of the HTC Bellows Kollel and the Chicago Community Kollel, and was a rebbe in the Fasman Yeshiva High School and Beis Midrash. He also gave shiurim on practical halachah to members of the community as part of the Bellows Kollel's outreach program. He currently works in real estate management and learns nightly at Kollel Zichron Eliyahu.

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