Our Relationship to Wisdom

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Jerusalem Talmud Berachos (last page):

"R. Shimon b. Lakish said:  I found in the Megillas Chassidim this maxim: 'If you abandon Me for one day, I will leave you for two days.'  This is like two individuals who having journeyed; one from Tiberias and the other from Sephoris, meet at an inn; then they continue on the road. Before they will travel a mile in their respective directions, they are two miles apart. Again, if a woman waits for a one she loves, she will wait as long as he keeps her in his thoughts. As soon as she hears he no longer thinks about her, she hastens to espouse another."

This Talmudic portion describes 2 types of departures from Torah engagement. The 2 departures are from corresponding engagements with Torah: 1) casual and 2) dedicated. 

The first type of engagement is casual. There's no previous relationship. Two men were from distant cities, unknown to each other, they met momentarily without establishing a relationship, and then continued on their way. When departed from each other, neither one has a thought of the other. This analogy to wisdom will play out as follows: man is involved in his worldly pursuits, he momentarily encounters wisdom, and then resumes his business activities. Wisdom readily vacates his thoughts. As his energies are wrapped up in the business world, it will take great energy for him to abandon that love, and return to Torah. This is expressed as "leaving wisdom for one day, it leaves you for two days". Meaning, greater energies are required to reenter the world of wisdom.

But when man is "engaged" in Torah wisdom like a bride, it matters none that be might be preoccupied for hours or days at business or other pursuits. Since he is attached to wisdom, she (Torah) awaits his return. This teaches that the value we place on wisdom causes it to remain on our minds, regardless of the necessary activities in which we must engage for our needs. This is akin to a man in love with a woman; his thoughts never leave her, no matter how long distant from her. When they reunite, it is as if he never left; they quickly resume their relationship. Therefore, a break in our studies will not necessarily affect our attachment to wisdom or the ease by which we reenter study after such a break.

We learn that a tremendous attachment to wisdom is available to all people, akin to romance, as King Solomon describe in Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim). We also come to appreciate the Rabbis insight into human nature. They understood the fine details of our inner workings. In this example, they share a specific insight into the relationship between our values and actions. They demonstrate that our inner values determine our abilities, more than our mechanical activities. Although at times, we might require a few days of non-stop labor to feed our families, if we value wisdom, that very value enables us to reengage in thought as soon as the work is complete.