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Shir ha-Shirim XVIII Part Two: Sefirah 38

Rabbi Chanina of Caesaria said: Seeing that water is conducted not only to gardens and orchards, but also to baths and privies, am I to say that it is the same with the words of the Torah? Not so, since it says, “For the ways of God are right (Hoshea 14:10).” [Shir Hashirim Rabbah


We saw in the previous essay that a person can approach his Torah study with different intentions, appropriate for his immediate goals: he can use his Torah study to be expansive, “so the Torah goes from one end of the world to the other,” he can approach his Torah study as a source of new energy, “so the Torah is a source of life,” and he can use his Torah study to solidify his attachment to Heaven, “so the Torah is from heaven.” He can use his Torah study to find inspiration, “so the Torah was given with loud thunder,” or he can approach his Torah study as a way to restore his soul, “so the Torah restores the soul.” He can choose to focus his Torah study as a way to achieve purification, “so the Torah cleanses and unclean man of his uncleanliness.” He can use the Torah to cover his transgressions, and he can use his Torah to become like a flowing stream. He can use his Torah study to achieve humility, and he can use his Torah study to preserve his soul.

Rabbi Chanina wonders what will happen to a person who uses different intentions in his Torah study: is it possible that he will use it for inappropriate matters? Will the Torah have the same power if it flows to “paths and privies?”

His answer is, absolutely not. What was described in the earlier list was how Torah itself possesses the power to transform the person steeped in it. The previous list was describing the power of Torah not how the person uses his Torah study. Torah itself does not empower corruptive purposes.

There is a difference when we study Torah between the power of the study itself and how we use it. When we approach Torah study with proper intentions we will be in empowered by the Torah. This does not preclude our using Torah for improper purposes such as achieving honor, but to access the power of Torah itself one’s intentions must be pure.

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