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Thursday, 8 May 2014

Teaching others how to travel at the speed of light

Beitzah 39

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated by Bev de Jong in honour of her husband Rick’s birthday.  Till 120 in good health!

Rabbi DovBer Friedman, the Maggid of Mezritch, was once out walking with two of his students, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Boruchovitch and Rabbi Pinchus Koritzer when they noticed a sheet of paper in the gutter.  Reb Pinchus picked it up and gasped.
"Oy, Rebbe, it's a page of your Hassidic teachings!” cried Reb Pinchus, “Maybe we should reconsider publicizing these secrets of the Torah, since not everyone appreciates it and they are being degraded?”

Reb Shneur Zalman listened to his friend and responded with a parable:
There was once a king who had an only son who took ill.  The best doctors were called in to treat him but there seemed to be no cure.  One day, an old man appeared and offered a strange remedy.
“Your Majesty, I think I can cure your son. It will require a great sacrifice on your part but it’s your only chance.”
“Whatever it takes,” replied the downtrodden king.

The old man pointed to the kings crown, where, set in gold, sparkled a one-of-a-kind jewel.
“You must grind up the crown jewel,” said the old man, “then we must mix it with water and give it to your son to drink. There is very little chance of him opening his mouth, and even if he does, I can't promise that he will swallow any of the mixture.  But if even the smallest amount goes down his throat, he will be healed.”

“The King,” explained Reb Shneur Zalman “is the Almighty. The prince is the Jewish people.  The crown is the Torah. The jewel represents its precious secrets. And the old man that healed the prince is the Baal Shem Tov.  The prince today is ill. The oppression of exile is taking its toll and the Jewish people are losing their enthusiasm.  Some are even, G-d forbid, leaving the Torah altogether.  The Baal Shem Tov understood that the only remedy for the Jewish people is making the secrets of the Torah available even to the most seemingly far-away Jew.  But in the process, unfortunately, much spills out. And that is why that page of Torah was laying in the gutter today.”

Previously, we explained the concept of techum.   A person may only go a certain distance (two thousand amos – about a kilometre) beyond the city limits on Shabbos.  The same goes for his belongings.

The Mishnah states: “A piece of coal has the techum restrictions of its owner, but a flame may go anywhere.  One who uses a piece of coal that has been dedicated to the Temple must atone, whereas while one should not use a flame for one’s own benefit, one need not atone for doing so.  And one who takes a coal out into the public domain [on Shabbos] is guilty, but not a flame.”

The Talmud is teaching us three important lessons here about sharing light.  Firstly, normally when you give something to someone, you no longer have the item, because they now have it.  Light is different.  When you share a flame with another person, you still retain your initial light.  That’s why the Mishnah teaches that the new “flame may go anywhere.”  

Some people are afraid of leaving their familiar settings and going out to share Torah with others. 
‘How might I and my family be negatively influenced by our new surroundings?’ they ask.  The Mishnah answers that when you share the light of Torah, your light is not diminished.  That’s the beauty of light – it can be shared and now both the giver and the receiver have light!

Secondly, ideally “one should not use a flame for one’s own benefit.”  You shouldn’t be sharing the light of Torah, thinking ‘What can I get out of this?’  There are certainly benefits accorded one who teaches Torah in this world – people respect and revere you, your children learn from your dedication and so on.  One should avoid sharing the light of Torah for the wrong reasons.

Nevertheless, the Mishnah teaches that “you need not atone for doing so.”  It’s better to share the light completely for G-dly reasons.  But if that’s not enough to motivate you, then find a reason to go out and share the light.  The main thing is not why you’re doing it; the main thing is to do it!

Thirdly, sometimes it’s necessary to take the light of Torah out into the “public domain.”  When you do so, you run the risk of people getting access to it and disrespecting it.  But as Reb Shneur Zalman taught, we have no choice.  We must share the medicine of Torah despite the side effects.   The patient is ill and we must save him!

Spread the light of Torah!  Your light won’t be diminished by sharing the light with others.  Try and be as selfless as you can, but the main thing is that you are dedicated to sharing the light.  And although there are risks involved with spreading the light of Torah publicly, we have no choice – the world needs the light!

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

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