Perek 3, Mishnayot 7-8
TWO MISHNAYOT, THREE STATEMENTS
The mishnayot read, in summary:
R. El'azar of Bartota says: Give Him of His, for you and yours are His, and so, too, with David Ha-melekh, the verse says, "for all is from You, and from Your hands we have given to You."
R. Shimon says: One who is walking along the road learning, and stopped to admire bushes or trees by the road, ma'aleh alav ha-katuv ke'ilu mitchayyeiv be-nafsho - Scripture accounts it as if that person had engendered capital liability.
R. Dosta'ai b. Yanai in the name of R. Meir says: Anyone who forgets their Torah knowledge engenders capital liability, as the verse says, "Only be careful of yourself and guard your soul exceedingly lest you forget the matters your eyes witnessed." Does that mean that even if it were impossible for him to remember? That is why the verse says, "and lest they be removed from your heart," teaching that one does not engender liability until one sits and removes Torah knowledge from his heart.
GIVING HIM OF HIS - AN INDICATION OF INVOLVEMENT IN THE WORLD
Maharal wants to connect the first clause to the previous mishna about how groups of people studying Torah merit a visitation by the Shekhina (Divine Presence). That mishna may lead to the erroneous conclusion that God is otherwise not involved in the world. To combat that impression, this mishna mentions God's deep connection to, indeed ownership of, everything in the world. As a second possibility (Maharal prefers the first), God's connection to groups of people studying Torah may suggest that He needs people in some way; this mishna comes to forestall that conclusion.
Since Maharal prefers the first, however, we can work with that option, that the mishna comes to stress God's connection to the world. It means to deny that there is a general siluk (withdrawal of the Divine Presence) except for where people's actions produce a visitation. That notion relates in Maharal's mind to the discussion in Tractate Berakhot about the need to make blessings on food before we eat them. According to the gemara, food before it has been blessed belongs to God, so much so that if we eat without the proper blessing, the gemara refers to it (somewhat metaphorically, we hope) as me'ilah (gaining benefit from sanctified objects). Once we make a blessing, however, the food becomes permissible.
Maharal questions how that works - what in the blessing renders the food permissible? One obvious answer, that God needs our blessings and gives us food in return for performing that service, cannot be true, since it incorrectly ascribes need to God. Instead, Maharal suggests that the gemara means that objects' connection to God prevents our using those objects, since we are, by using them, severing their connection to God. The state of being "barukh (blessed)" however, implies sharing/bestowing on others, so that when we mention this word in connection to God, we introduce the notion that He will bestow these materials on us as well, and then it becomes available for human consumption.
DOES OUR SAYING IT MAKE IT SO?
It is not clear to me what Maharal means by this - if part of being barukh is bestowing those riches on others, why should we need to say it to make it so? Should it not then be that all objects are available for use without our doing anything? Possibly, Maharal is thinking of a major and minor element of our view of objects. When we first see an apple, we should recognize God's intimate connection with that apple (La-shemha-aretzu-melo'ah - the Earth is the Lord's and all its abundance, Psalms 24:1). An object so connected to an ultimate being should ordinarily be prohibited for our use. However, by mentioning the state of blessedness that also accurately describes God, we bring another part of the puzzle into play, one that allows us to share in His bounty.
[I would add that this gemara can be read just as easily as a lesson for man, rather than anything having to do with God. Maharal's reading it in the way he does suggests that he sees a more cosmic reality to blessings on food, a concept worth pursuing in its own right. In addition, he seems to be seeing a blessing as announcing an already existing state of being, rather than creating one - we are recognizing the blessedness of the apple, not bestowing it.]
MAINTAINING A HUMAN CONNECTION TO GOD
Objects are in their very essence connected to God, but humans create that connection by activating their intellects in a way that connects to Him, namely studying Torah. Maharal explains that in studying Torah, we remove all possibility of death and decay ("he'eder") from ourselves, because we are directly connected to the Active Intellect. It is in that light that Maharal understands the stories in the gemara that say that one cannot die while studying Torah. He sees the stories as literal, and the reason behind them is that death comes as a result of the decay of some part of the body. While studying Torah, however, decay becomes impossible, and so does death.
Because of that quality of Torah, the act of leaving Torah ("perisha") becomes especially problematic in Maharal's view, as shown by the person walking along the road. In noticing the beauties of nature, that person is leaving Torah study. Maharal notes that even though the opportunity for perishacame to the person without any effort, meaning that the person did not TRY to leave Torah study, he nevertheless incurs the liability.
DOES ANY LEAVING OF TORAH STUDY INCUR THE SAME LIABILITY?
Maharal recognizes that we cannot demand that all people study Torah all the time, so that not every non-study act can be construed as perisha, a criminal leaving of Torah study. If one stops studying momentarily, therefore, Maharal can accept that. Why, then, does the traveler incur the full liability for a moment's appreciation of the wonders of God's world?
To understand Maharal's answer, we need to recall his claim that while we are involved in Torah study, we are freed from all he'eder, the loss due to decay or physical breakdown. While traveling, Maharal notes, there are many dangers on the road, so that it is a time when connection to God through our intellects would be especially essential for self-preservation. In such a context, any cessation of Torah study would already be a negative act. [To put this in modern terms, Maharal seems to think that one who was traveling on an airplane would have to study the whole time, in order to protect oneself from the various accidents that can occur.]
FORGETTING OR NEGLECTING TO REVIEW?
Mishna 3:8 starts by including all forgetting in the problem, but it ends by requiring an act of specifically REMOVING Torah knowledge from one's memory before one incurs liability. Maharal notes a middle ground, where one does not actively remove Torah knowledge from one's memory; instead, one simply neglects to review so that the information is lost. In Maharal's view, that case also incurs liability, because the willful disregard for review constitutes an act of removal. What the mishna only meant to free from liability, he says, was the case where one's knowledge simply outstripped one's memory - what the mishna calls takfa alavmishnato (his knowledge overwhelmed him). Anything else, however, Maharal believes qualifies as having removed them.
I find this concept interesting, because it raises the notion that neglecting to maintain a certain status can be considered by halakha to be an active rejection of it, or an act of removal. Inherent in knowledge, Maharal seems to be saying, is the need to review to keep it sharp. If one neglects that responsibility without justification, it is the same as actively removing that knowledge, which I find to be an interesting idea in many realms, not only in Torah.
We could perhaps relate this to the holiday of Pesach (Passover), where we seek to insure that we not forget the important elements of our lives. To do so, we have a yearly requirement to immerse ourselves in retelling the Pesach story. While we are required to mention only the basic fact of the Exodus on a daily basis, we also need to insure that we remember the event in all its salient factual and emotional detail, a requirement that we fulfill sedernight, with our lengthy and loquacious discussions of the event. Thus, the process of Torah study requires both continuous and periodic intensification of review to remain with us, individually and as a united people.