For or Against? — K’neged Kulam

This is a guest post, by Arnie Draiman, who has worked with me for more than 25 years.

Each morning, even before we begin Pesukei D’zimra (the first part of the morning prayers), we have a section called Birchot HaShachar (the morning blessings). Included in this section is some Torah study and its Brachot as well. And this is where we find a list of 10 things to do daily. It is based on a few selections from the Talmud (Peah 1:1, Shabbat 127a, Kiddushin 39b)

אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאָדָם אוֹכֵל פֵּרוֹתֵיהֶם בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה וְהַקֶּרֶן קַיֶּמֶת לוֹ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. וְאֵלּוּ הֵן. כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם. וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים. וְהַשְׁכָּמַת בֵּית הַמִּדְרָשׁ. שַׁחֲרִית וְעַרְבִית. וְהַכְנָסַת אוֹרְחִים. וּבִקּוּר חוֹלִים. וְהַכְנָסַת כַּלָּה. וּלְוָיַת הַמֵּת. וְעִיּוּן תְּפִלָּה. וַהֲבָאַת שָׁלוֹם בֵּין אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ וּבֵין אִישׁ לְאִשְׁתּוֹ. וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם

“These are the things for which you now enjoy the benefit of (in this world), and the principle remains for you (in the world to come), namely: honoring parents, doing acts of lovingkindness, going to pray night and day, welcoming guests, visiting the sick, celebrating with a bride, burying the dead, studying prayer, peacemaking between people including husband and wife; and the study of Torah is “K’neged Kulam”.”

Most everyone traditionally translates “k’neged kulam” as “being equal to”. So, in this case, we have Torah study as “being equal to” the other 9 items listed. (The image often used is “the scales of justice” where you put those 9 items on one side, and Torah study on the other, and the scale is balanced)

I never liked that. How can honoring parents, burying the dead, visiting the sick, et al together be equal to studying Torah. Especially since  there are many people who feel that only Torah study is what is important, since it is (minimally) ‘equal’ to all of the others.

So, I wanted to look more closely at the word “k’neged.” Indeed, it is most often used in the Torah and in rabbinic sources (and modern Hebrew) to mean opposite, opposing, against, across from – as when Moshe is told that he will not enter the Promised Land but only see it from across the way; or today, when two sports teams play against each other.

However, another use of the word “k’neged,” is loosely translated as ‘being present’ (in Hebrew: nochach). We see this in Eve being created for Adam (as an “ezer k’negdo” – a helpmate, being present as partner with Adam), as well as in the verse from Psalms (Tehillim 16:8) Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid – I have placed Gd eternally before me (I make sure that Gd is always present with me).

Therefore, I can say about the study of Torah, that it is not “opposite” the other 9, as if on a balance but rather, that the study of Torah must be present in each one. You have to keep Torah present – in front of you, before you, when you are doing these other things.

So that doing bikur holim (visiting the sick) and other gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness) are done from a Torah perspective, with Torah in mind, and NOT “plain” like “social action” activists who may have forgotten (or never learned) the roots of this in Torah/Judaism.

Talmud Torah K’neged Kulam – the image that i prefer, is that the study of Torah is kept in front of your eyes, “sitting” across from you, and becomes incorporated in each mitzvah that you do.

Arnie Draiman is a Philanthropic Consultant at Draiman Consulting  – helping people and foundations give their Tzedakah money away wisely, efficiently, and effectively.

About the Author
Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 500 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values, besides reading from his own poetry. He is the author of 29 1/2 books on such topics as Mitzvah heroism practical and personalized Tzedakah, and Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well. Siegel has been referred to as "The World's Greatest Expert on Microphilanthropy", "The Pied Piper of Tzedakah", "A Pioneer Of Tzedakah", and "The Most Famous Unknown Jewish Poet in America."
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