Rabbi Yosay would say: …Perfect yourself for the study of Torah, for it is not an inheritance to you Ethics of the Fathers, 2:12
Surely Rabbi Yosai does not disagree with the Torah’s own statement, taught to the Jewish child as soon as he/she is capable of speech, that “The Torah that Moses commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob”?
But our relationship with the Torah is described, again in the Torah’s own words, in terms of several different models of ownership and possession:
(a) It is our “inheritance,” as per the above- and oft-quoted verse (Deuteronomy 33:4).
(b) It is an “acquisition” that we have “purchased” (“I have given you a good purchase, My Torah, so not forsake it”—Proverbs 4:2).
(c) It a “gift” that has been granted us (“From the desert, it is a gift”—Numbers 21:18).
Not only are these analogies for our relationship to the Torah categorically different, they are also, in certain respects, contradictory . A “purchase” is something that is paid for, unlike the windfall “inheritance” and “gift.” The right for an “inheritance” is determined solely by who you are, a qualification not shared by the “gift” or the “purchase.” And the “gift” seems to be in a category of its own: is it who you are? Is it what you’ve done? It’s seems to be a bit of each, but not quite either of them. Obviously, you’ve done something to deserve it but, then again, a gift, by definition, is something that has not been paid for or earned.
The Three-Fold Metaphor
Much of human speech consists of metaphors. We speak of a “deep” feeling, a “lofty” idea, or a “cold” look. Obviously, we don’t intend to attribute physical properties to non-corporeal entities; we are merely using the metaphor, an indispensable tool if we are to attempt to make sense of the intangible in our lives.
At times, however, a single metaphor will not suffice. The concept we wish to articulate is simply too unique, too complex, too nuanced to be incorporated in any single model that is part of our concrete reality. In such a case, we enlist two or even several metaphors to make our point. Each model is used for its own properties; together, they piece together a new concept, one that incorporates these various, or even contradictory, elements. In this way, we able to envision something which has no single counterpart in our experience.
The same is true of Torah. No single phenomenon in our world can serve as a model to convey the nature of our “possession” of it. Only by speaking of it as an inheritance, purchase and a gift can we gain some insight into our profound, multifaceted relationship with Torah.
Essence and Expression
On the most basic level, Torah is the eternal heritage of every Jew, by virtue of the fact of his Jewishness. In this, the “inheritance” aspect of Torah, the most accomplished scholar “possesses” it no more than the most simple of folk. Two brothers may inherit the fortune of their father; the first may be a seasoned businessman, and the second, a day-old infant. But because a heir is defined by the “who” rather than the “how,” the extent of one’s aptitude for or interest in the inheritance is completely irrelevant.
Yet at the same time, there is also another dimension to our “ownership” of Torah, one in which the “you get what you pay for” maxim applies. True, Torah is yours, regardless. True, your “inheritance” is an function of who you are and of your quintessential bond to your heritage, even if you never drew a cent from your “trust” or you’re not even aware of its existence. But what does it mean to you in practical terms? How does it affect your daily existence? In this sense, the Torah is yours to the extent that you invested and sacrificed for it—a “purchase” acquired with the currency of time and toil. The more you study and observe, the more you will experience your heritage as a consciously meaningful element in your life.
Toiled and Found
But the combination inheritance-purchase model still does not sufficiently describe the nature of our relationship with Torah. A third mode of acquisition, the “gift,” must also be introduced.
A gift often seems to arrive out of the blue, without regard to the identity of the beneficiary or the extent of his investment. But, as the Talmud points out, there is really no such thing as a completely “unearned” gift. Some thing or act on the part of the beneficiary must have evoked the benefactor’s desire to give: “Had he not caused him satisfaction in some way, he would not have granted him a gift.” Because of this, many of the laws that govern a sale also apply to a gift.
Yet when it does come, the gift is a true windfall, totally without proportion or any traceable connection to the initial investment. The same is true with Torah: the rewards of its study are infinitely beyond the scope of anything the human mind can possibly invest. In the words of the Talmud:
“Should someone tell you, `I have toiled but not found’—do not believe him; `I have not toiled but I have found’—do not believe him; `I have toiled and I have found’—believe him.”
The choice of the word “found” (rather than “gained,” for example) seems inappropriate – a “find” implies an unearned benefit, while the Talmud’s message is that toil, and only toil, produces anything worthwhile. But this is precisely the point: without toil and effort, nothing happens; but when one does apply himself, to the full extent of his resources and talents, the result–also on the experiential level–is above and beyond anything he could possibly have envisioned.