Elevating Oneself Through the Study of Torah and Mussar
The Holy Zohar notes the fact that Parsha Nasso is the longest in the Torah. It comprises 176 verses, longer than any other parsha. Why is that the case?
The sefarim provide an explanation. This parsha always falls around the holiday of Shavuot, either before or after, although generally after. Since we received the Torah on Shavuot, this is a way of telling us: It is very good to have received the Torah, but now we must seriously study it.
What does someone do if he becomes a doctor? He opens up a medial office. If someone becomes a lawyer? After he receives his diploma, he opens up a lawyer’s office. It is the same here. After receiving the Torah on Shavuot, it is time for everyone to study even more Torah.
This is why Parsha Nasso is so long. It is to teach us that if we devote ourselves to the Torah, we must not choose the shortest path, but on the contrary, the longest. When we speak of a long path, this means devoting more time to Torah study. It does not mean that we always look at the clock, hoping that our learning will soon end! We draw this lesson from Parsha Nasso, which, as we mentioned, is the longest parsha in the entire Torah.
Our parsha is called Nasso, from a Hebrew root that means “elevation,” because the goal of Torah is to teach a person how to elevate himself. To our great regret we saw how Hitler, yimach shemo, sent his generals a famous letter when he decided to wipe out the Jewish people. In that letter, which people have actually seen, he gives his reason for wiping out the Jews: The Jewish people cling to their morality, and if Jews are ethical, they have a different goal than we do in the world. Consequently, they represent an obstacle in our path, which is why they must be wiped out.
Unfortunately, that was one of the reasons that motivated Hitler. He did not succeed, however, because we maintained our morality. We have always been here, and we will always remain, whether Hitler wants it or not.
This is why the Torah wants us to study it and perform mitzvot, which is what will enable us to elevate ourselves. There is one thing that we should realize, however, which is that when people see a kippah-wearing Jew spitting or screaming in the street, their first reaction is, “Look at that Jew!” They do not have a similar reaction when seeing other people doing the same. If others do something similar and people see it, nobody looks at them in the wrong way or criticizes them. However for Jews, the reaction of others is automatically negative, since it is a desecration of Hashem’s Name, for which there is no forgiveness.
When someone smokes on Shabbat, Hashem may forgive him. When someone eats something non-Kosher, Hashem may forgive him. However when someone causes Hashem’s Name to be desecrated by doing certain things, such as disturbing his neighbors, there is no forgiveness for this because it is not ethical at all.
It is this type of morality that we learn from Parsha Nasso. This morality states that we must not pride ourselves over other people, feeling superior to them. Rather, we must elevate ourselves and become ethical people, people who are courteous. We must work on ourselves in order to improve our service of G-d.
We may add that this is the connection between Parsha Nasso and Parsha Beha’alotcha. At the beginning of Parsha Nasso it is written, “Raise [i.e., count] the head of the children of Gershon” (Numbers 4:22). Why does it say the “head,” rather than the “family” of the children of Gershon? It is to teach us that if we want to raise our heads, where the brain is found, then we must chase the evil inclination from our minds, as well as all the desires that come to disrupt our service of G-d. It is in this way that we will elevate ourselves in serving G-d, through the study of Mussar. This is Parsha Beha’alotcha, which alludes to Torah study, for “when you light the lamps” (Numbers 8:2) alludes to the verse, “the mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23). As we know, the lamp represents the soul, as the verse states: “A man’s soul is the lamp of the L-RD” (Proverbs 20:27). It is solely through Torah study that the body is sanctified, and the soul is happy to reside in such a holy body.
In reflecting upon this, we realize that this is man’s goal in life. This is what constitutes the tremendous difference between man and animal. We know that animals have no goal in life; nobody has ever seen an animal punching a ticket at a train station or one walking around with a suitcase. Even if we dress one up, like in a circus, it still remains an animal. The whole life of an animal is made up of eating and drinking, and then it dies. However man has a tremendous goal in life, and he possesses the ability to modify his nature, be it for better or for worse.
This is why the Torah teaches man to become a veritable human being, and not to change his nature toward the animal side. He must remain steadfast in his moral path, and the Torah will help to elevate him. Once again, this does not mean becoming boastful over others – especially not that! This is because the Torah is acquired only through humility, and its only objective is to teach man to behave humbly, to become calm and speak softy. This is why it helps man in two ways: It trains him to break away from his negative instincts, and at the same time it elevates him to remain humane, moral, and humble.
The Sages have said, ““Who is strong? He who subdues his inclination” (Perkei Avoth 4:1). They did not say, “Who is strong? He who lifts tremendous weights.” That is not strength! A man’s true strength consists of knowing how to control his instincts, to dominate his anger, and to conquer the negative side of his nature. An example of this would be a person who is wealthy, yet remains humble and does not flaunt his wealth or boast.
We learn all this from Parsha Nasso. Elevate yourself, yes, but rise above yourself – not others. We must always remain moral, humane, and humble with others. All this is achieved through the study of Torah and Mussar.