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Avot 3:11: Reb Tzaddok haKohen of Lublin Print E-mail

Pirkei AvosRabbi Chanina ben Dosa says: Anyone whose fear of sin takes priority over his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone whose wisdom takes priority over his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure. (Avot 3:11)


Words of Torah which pass through the heart, that is, that the heart feels and is affected by them, are defined as a “Tree of Life (Proverbs 3:18),” and an “Elixir of Life (Pesachim 50b).” For the heart is the source of vitality, as it is written, “Above all you guard, keep your heart, for out of it is the issue of life (Proverbs 4:23).” When one's enthusiasm is aroused by the words of Torah, the very zest of his vitality is aroused, and engenders vitality in man.

This occurs when one's fear of sin comes before his wisdom. For fear of heaven is in the heart, as our Sages said on the verse, “To acquire wisdom when there is no heart (Proverbs 17:16).” [See Yoma 72b] Theodore is the female, and the Torah of truth is the male designed to instill peace and joy in the heart, as it is said, “The precepts of God are right, rejoicing the heart (Psalms 19:9).” After the fear which engenders a broken heart and sadness, the words of Torah are absorbed and sustained in the heart.

For the heart is the locality where the blood boils and through the power of desire and yearning for the sweetness of the words of Torah the element of fire is strengthened, as the Rabbis said: “The Torah boils in him (Ta'anit 4a).” And it is well known that boiling causes absorption with such strength that what is absorbed never escapes from it, a quality absent in absorption by cool or cold elements, such as words of Torah which do not pass through the heart.

One may be perfectly capable to conceive wisdom in his brain and to perceive matters of divinity and Torah while his heart remains totally unaffected by it all. For he is like one who studies external wisdom, which has no relation to him.

It is all the result of lacking the necessary prerequisite, that is, the fear of sin, which causes one to reflect on his shortcomings and to feel a need for the words of Torah capable of perfecting him; the us his wisdom will not endure.

This is the principle: When one's heart is actively inspired in his study of Torah, then it has vitality and is absorbed internally. (Tzidkat haTzaddik, #225)

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