I got an email back last week from one of the people on this list, a good friend of mine. He is thinking about spending some time in a yeshiva, but isn't sure. So he asked me the following question:

"How long more do you plan on learning? Forever??? And where are you learning these days? I'm still not sure about going to yeshiva because I still don't know why we learn.. what is the point of sitting in a room the whole day learning, how does that make one a better person and how does it make a better world?"

Ah! Now that's a question. How come the rest of you don't send me questions like that? (Note: I like being emailed questions... don't hold back if you have any)

The answer to this question is much bigger and deeper than this email can contain, but I will try to shed a bit of understanding as to how learning Torah makes a better person and a better world. In doing so, we can also come to understand the lights of Chanuka, which starts next week!

In The Beginning

If you read the first chapter of Bereishit, you'll see that on the first day of Creation Hashem said "Let there be light." And light was created. Very nice. But if you read a little further you'll see that on the third day Hashem said "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens (i.e. the sun) to separate between the day and the night" (Bereishit 1:14). Why did Hashem create light twice? And what is the difference between the light of the first day and the light of the third?

Two Lights

The light of the third day is that of the sun that we live by today and know so well. The light of the first day was something else entirely. That 'light' is the will or desire that Hashem had to create the world. It is the concept He had in mind, so to speak, in creating us. It is the Vision that drives the existence of our world. Our entire world exists only because Hashem wants our world to reach that Vision.

Hashem provides the energy for our world to exist. He is constantly creating and maintaining it. If His 'Desire' or 'Vision' were to disappear, than as soon as it did, Hashem would stop creating and maintaining our world, and everything we know would cease to exist.

So where is it?

It is because this 'light' is the foundation of the world that it was the very first thing created. But why don't we have it today? Where is this light? How come no one knows about it? Our Sages (Chagiga 12a) tell us that after Hashem created this light, "He saw it, and saw that it does not deserve that the wicked use it, and He hid it and set it aside for the righteous, to be used by them in the future." In other words, if our world had access to this light, many many people would abuse it. And so Hashem hid the details of this Ideal that motivated His creation of the entire universe.

Where did He hide it? In the Torah. This is what the verse in Proverbs means when it says "A mitzva is a candle, and the Torah is light."

The entire Ideal, or Desire, or Vision, or whatever you want to call it that motivates the creation of our world, is hidden in the Torah. When we learn Torah in depth, when we dig a little deeper than a first glance, we reveal this light. It flows from the Torah and into us, and the world at large. It makes the world a little less physical, and a little more spiritual. We start to understand what this perfect world that Hashem envisaged is supposed to look like, and in this action we bring the world closer to reaching that Vision, in a way that no other action can.

There is nothing that makes us better people more than learning Torah, and there is nothing that makes the world a better place than learning Torah. When you learn Torah, and for that matter when you read this email, you are understanding a little bit more what a perfect world looks like, (and will look like once we reach that goal), and taking a step closer to reaching that potential. You personally take a step closer to perfection, and bring the entire world with you.

The Candles of Chanuka

This is exactly what the Greeks tried to destroy. They didn't mind us studying the Written Torah that we read in shule on Shabbat, but they wouldn't let us study the Oral Torah - the Talmud and Mishna. Everyone who has experienced learning knows that you can't really understand the Written Torah at all without the Oral Tradition that we received at Har Sinai. The two are inseparable. The Oral Torah describes and explains the inner depths of the Written Torah. The Written Torah doesn't make any sense without it. And the Greeks were only opposed to study of the Oral Torah. They also insisted on the Torah being translated into Greek.

Why these two things? Because the Greeks wanted to make the Torah like any other book. They wanted to cover our eyes from this light that is hidden within the Torah. To forget the Vision that Hashem has for the world and that He wants us to realize. For this reason they were opposed specifically to the Oral Torah and insisted on translated the Torah into their language. Without the Oral Torah we could never access the light that is hidden within the Torah. We wouldn't be able to dig deep enough. Their aim was to make our Torah like any other book and make us forget that it was ever anything else.

But the Greeks are not in Jerusalem today. The Jews are. The strength of the entire Greek empire didn't stand a chance against the light of the Torah, against Hashem's Vision for the world. We light our Chanuka candles in the doorway or windows of our house to try and share the light that we have with the rest of the world. To try and bring ourselves and the entire world to realize that Vision that Hashem had when He created us: A perfect world.

But the greatest way we can realise that vision is by learning Torah :)

Happy Chanuka and Shabbat Shalom!

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