I Want My Son to Love Torah

“I want my son to love Torah”, Mrs. Green told the veteran principal, urging
her son to sit still during his interview. “I think it would be more appropriate
to hope that the Torah will love your son”, retorted the principal.

Mrs. Green almost turned blue. Until now, she had thought and even preached
to her close friends that the world was here to revolve around her son, and this
“principal” was telling her just the opposite. Half-angry and half-confused,
Mrs. Green blurted out, “If my son doesn’t love Torah, what value does the Torah
have!”

“Mrs. Green”, returned the principal in a calming tone, “Of course it’s
important for a child to develop a great yearning for Torah. To quote the words
of the Mesilas Yesharim (Perek 7), “The most wanted feature in avodas Hashem is
the heart’s desire and the yearning of the soul, as Dovid Hamelech davened (Tehillim
42:2-3) that “his soul should desire Hashem as a deer pants when it spots a new
and surprising water source”, and “My soul desires to see Hashem (as a thirsty
person desires water).” 

However, let’s go back to basics. Allow me to ask you a question. Would you
say the fulfillment of Torah is based on desire or obligation?”

“I’m not sure which is more critical”, answered Mrs. Green, trying to avoid
falling prey to whatever the principal was up to. “Very clever”, answered the
principal, totally surprising her. “This very same question was asked in the
Gemorah (Kedushin 31a). “Whose service to Hashem has greater value; one who
volunteers to serve Hashem or one who fulfills Hashem’s will because he is
commanded to do so?” The Gemorah concludes that one who fulfills Hashem’s word
out of obligation is greater. Why? Tosephos (there) explains that one who
volunteers to do a mitzvah, may either do it or not, according to his feeling at
the time. This leaves the mitzvah in a constant state of question as to whether
it will be fulfilled. On the other hand, one who is compelled to perform by
Hashem’s command, will fulfill the mitzvah in a most reliable manner,
independent of his own feeling or desire at any particular time.

Tosephos is teaching us that no matter how great the value of an individual’s
desire to perform Hashem’s commandments, the consistency of that performance,
even if it is done with limited enthusiasm, is of greater value to Hashem.

The Tana in Avos (1:2) says, the world stands on three things: Torah, avodah
and gemilus chassadim. Gemilus chassadim – or doing kind deeds to others – is
the branch of Torah whose rudimentary fulfillment is nourished by a generous
heart. However, the fulfillment of mitzvos is not. Although, one should
preferably fulfill mitzvos with a full heart, as we mentioned above, one’s basic
obligation is to know he is fulfilling a mitzvah and perform it.

“Mrs. Green”, the principal concluded, “although it is highly commendable for
your son to love Torah, as it can lead to fulfillment of mitzvos in an exalted
manner, his love is secondary to the actual fulfillment of mitzvos. In another
Mishna, the Tana (Avos 5:24) lists the attributes needed to defer the forces of
the Yetzer Hora. He tells us that in order to fulfill Hashem’s commandments, one
needs to be “brazen as a tiger, light as an eagle, quick as a deer and ferocious
as a lion”. The Tana does not include to “love” Torah as a tzaddik. (See Mesilas
Yesharim perek 6.) While love of Torah is a great virtue, the middos mentioned
in the above Mishnah lead one to actually perform the mitzvos.

“Mrs. Green”, summarized the principal, “we consider our fundamental
obligation to help our students refine their middos in order to be able to
successfully fulfill Hashem’s mitzvos. Of course, as well, we talk of the beauty
and benefits of Torah learning and fulfillment and would like to see the
students eventually fulfill the Torah from love. However, true love for the
Torah can only come after one is committed to it and practices it.

The Mesilas Yesharim (Perek 7) explains that there are adults who have not
yet developed internal desire for Torah fulfillment. His advice to them is to
externally stimulate their desire for Torah by involving themselves in its study
and fulfillment with great effort. This will, in time, generate a pure, internal
desire for Torah. In other words, one who is not yet interested in learning
Torah, should make a concerted effort to sit and learn. With time, the beauty
and depth of Torah will begin to reach him until he develops a real, internal
desire to learn Torah.

Certainly, Mrs. Green, children, being almost exclusively dominated by
external, mundane interests, should not be expected to love Torah. Therefore,
according to the words of the Mesilas Yesharim  above, students should be
encouraged to learn in an exciting and challenging environment which stimulates
the mind and the emotions of the child. With time, consistent dedication to
learning will fill him with an internal desire to learn and “love” Torah.

So you see, Mrs. Green, we are both heading in the same direction. Only, I
see love of Torah as a long-range goal and it appears to me that though you want
to see results now.”

“The point I am trying to make, Mrs. Green, I found myself years ago in the
Biur Halacha.  The Torah commands
“ואהבת את ה’…”
(“And you shall love Hashem…”). The Biur Halacha brings the Sifri which asks,
“How can one come to love Hashem?” The answer, continues the Sifri, is found in
the following posuk:
“והיו הדברים האלה
אשר אנכי מצוך היום על לבבך”
(“And these words which I command you today
shall be on your heart”).

·       “הדברים”
– (“words”) refers to the study of the “words” of Torah.

·       “אנכי
מצוך”
– (“that I command you”) refers to learning Torah, knowing that a
wise and kind G-d commanded to learn them.

·       “על
לבבך”
– (“on your heart”). Eventually the love of G-d will fill a
person’s heart.

In short, love of G-d is reached through the channel of dedicated Torah study
as a fulfillment of G-d’s Will. Thus, the very study of Torah generates a person
to love Hashem.

The Mesilas Yesharim (Perek 8) mentions another avenue through which one can
reach ahavas Hashem. That is, through observance and meditation on the great
good which Hashem bestows upon a person, day in and day out, one will feel a
great obligation to thank Hashem and fulfill His mitzvos. Rabbi Baruch Epstein,
the author of the “Torah Temima”, in his sefer, “Baruch She’amar” on Tefila,
explains that this will bring him to love Hashem, for man’s nature is to love
one who expresses chesed and love towards him. This concept is expressed
succinctly in the posuk (Mishle 27:19)
“כמים הפנים לפנים כן
לב האדם לאדם”
(“As in water, where one’s face is reflected back to him,
so too, one’s heartfelt expression to another will be returned in the same
vein”).

Mrs. Green, can you clarify what you mean by “love of Torah”? Do you mean
that your son should feel good about his involvement in Torah; that it should be
sweet or beneficial to him, or, that your son should fulfill Torah not for
personal gain, but L’Shem Shamayim – for Hashem’s sake – because Hashem wants
him to live as a ben Torah?

Do we need to teach children to love Torah? Rav Yaakov Emden, in his siddur,
Siddur Hayaavetz, explains that the Jewish people’s love of Hashem is as a
child’s love of his father – a natural, innate love. Actually, our love for G-d
is even greater, for the relationship is a spiritual one, one which lasts
forever. As Torah is an expression of Hashem’s Will, it is natural, as well, for
one to love Hashem’s Torah. Only, since Hashem’s Torah is as deep as the ocean,
it can only be understood and thus appreciated with dedicated, in-depth study.
Thus, it would appear, that greater than the need to lead a child to love Torah,
are the precautions we must take to not to dilute or spoil that natural love.

In any case, Mrs. Green, the better student your son will be, the greater
love he will have for Hashem and His Torah. We wish him great success!