The Service of Love
Rabbi Reuven Mann
We read in Pirkey Avos: "If you have learned much Torah do not take credit for yourself because that is what you were created for". On the surface this idea is difficult to understand and goes contrary to common perception. It is generally regarded as fitting to "give credit where credit is due". One who overcomes the pull of emotions and directs his energies towards the good certainly deserves praise. Thus, we constantly extol the good deeds of righteous people, for their example can inspire others to emulate them. If those who work hard to attain much Torah knowledge are not deserving of credit then who is?
I believe we must look at the words carefully. They are addressed to the Torah scholar himself. "If you have learned much Torah do not take credit for yourself". Others may and should praise you and give proper recognition for the achievement. However, the scholar himself has no right to take credit. Why not? Because "this is what you were created for". This means that when a person studies Torah he is fulfilling the purpose of his existence. His psyche was designed for this particular activity and when he engages in it properly it affords him the greatest satisfaction and happiness. People pursue many diverse lifestyles in their frantic search for fulfillment. "There are many thoughts in the heart of man but only the plan of G-d will prevail". The one who studies Torah achieves the highest form of life. He should not feel that he has sacrificed anything, that he deserves credit for his efforts. Rather, he is permeated with an intense feeling of happiness and regards himself as privileged to have partaken of the delights of G-d's Torah. He feels totally fulfilled and imbued with the special satisfaction of one who has achieved the mission he was sent to perform. Such a person loves Torah profusely and wants to share it with others.
On Shavuot we celebrate the most significant event in human history: the Revelation of G-d's Torah to mankind. The Jewish people have been chosen to make the wisdom of Torah available to the nations. However before we seek to help others, we must perfect ourselves. The mitzvot are not magical pills which automatically transform us. Effort on our part is required. It is up to us to rise to the challenge of Sinai. A complacent attitude toward Judaism is perhaps our greatest problem. True, we perform mitzvot and even devote some time to study. Yet we feel as though we are fulfilling an obligation for which we deserve credit. There is nothing wrong with that attitude. It would be nice if more Jews felt a greater sense of responsibility about their religious duties. However, Judaism offers something more beautiful and profound. When studied properly Torah enlightens the mind and inspires the heart. It transforms one's observance of mitzvot into a labor of love.
As we approach the holiday of Shavuot let it be our prayer that the "words of Torah should be pleasant in our mouths and the mouths of our children". The experience will help us achieve the "service of love." It will enable us to become a kingdom of Priests and a Holy nation.