I’ve been thinking about a few things over the past few days that I’d like to share with you. The first is about President Trump. Who has not been thinking about President Trump? For one reason or another, he remains a focal point of so much of our national conversation.
Someone showed me a Saturday Night Live skit of an election ad that was aired shortly before the presidential election. In it, there was a group of US citizens that were worrying about what would happen if Vice President Joe Biden is elected as president. If Biden is elected, one person quipped, “What are we going to talk about?” Another remarked that the only conversation that he has had over the past four years was about Donald Trump. Someone else said that her entire personality is based upon her hatred of Donald Trump. Of course, supporters of President Trump over these past four years have also been obsessed with the president as well, albeit in a different way.
The National Institutes of Health describe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts and behaviors that the person feels the urge to repeat over and over again. The causes are not well-understood, but from a behavioral perspective this disorder may be due to certain perceived threats or fears that produce anxiety and stress. Some have written, perhaps humorously, but perhaps more tragically, about OCTD, or obsessive-compulsive Trump disorder. Unfortunately, this obsession shows no signs of abating.
The second thing that I’ve been thinking about is a conversation that I recently had with someone who told me that she was on the verge of finishing a daily cycle of learning the six orders of Mishnah. She remarked that she started her daily learning a number of years ago when my wife started learning Nach Yomi with a group of people in our shul. After she finished Nach Yomi, she began other learning projects and now her daily project has been learning Mishnayot.
What is the connection between these two seemingly unconnected items? The Mishna in Avot (1:15) states: “Shammai says: Make your Torah ‘keva.’” ‘Keva’ literally means fixed or permanent. In an essay entitled, “Make Your Torah Permanent: The Centrality of Torah Study,” Rav Lichtenstein provides a number of explanations for this expression. I’d like to focus on one of them. He writes, “When a person is kove’a ittim la-Torah, he has indicated that Torah has a permanent place in his life. It is not one of those things which you do only if you have time. A person who enjoys playing basketball will play if he has time, but won’t if he doesn’t have time. On the other hand, there are certain things that you do regularly because you understand that these are part of your very being. The question is: How is Torah going to fit into a person’s life experience? Will it be like reading a fine novel, or will it be part of one’s regular daily schedule? Will it be part of the very essence of his being?”
For Rav Lichtenstein, daily regular Torah study shapes our personality and transforms us into different people. Countless people over the years have confirmed this assertion with their own experiences. So many people have told me that once years ago they decided to study something or attend a shiur on a regular basis, whether it was daily or weekly, and how it transformed their lives once it became part of their routine. They feel like a different person and they feel that they look at the world through a different lens. Additionally, they are hooked. They cannot imagine life without it.
Certainly, I believe that Torah shapes our personality and our perspective. I would hope that we believe that the Torah is not some ancient book of laws and sayings, but that it contains timeless values that are so relevant and so necessary for us to inculcate even today in 2021. However, as I am living through the divisiveness of our current political climate, I have realized that there is another invaluable benefit of regular Torah study. These times in the day are opportunities for me to transcend this world and to transcend the bitterness and the nastiness that unfortunately surrounds me during so much of my regular life, from almost any news station or social media feed. Make no mistake about it. This continued unending political fight over our values, even when it is justified, has an impact on our souls. When we make a habit of studying the timeless values of Chumash, Navi, Mishna or Gemara on a regular basis, we extricate ourselves if for only a short period of time each day from some of the ugliness of this world and just bask in the light that is Torah and recharge our souls. And trust me. In the current climate of partisan politicking and so much stress, this is something that we so desperately need.