Rabbi Shalom Schwadron, the unforgettable maggid (inspirational speaker) of Jerusalem, told the following story. There was once a Chassidic rabbi walking with some of his disciples during the winter. As they strolled along the bank of the frozen Eastern European river, they observed a number of non-Jewish youths playing on its icy surface. The boys were skating, wrestling and playing with the snow. The rabbi paused, and stood for a long while, silently watching them. The students didn’t see anything remarkable at the scene, but they know better then to question their Rebbe.
After they returned to the beis medrash (study hall), the master enlightened them with his thoughts. “I noticed,” said he, “that among the people playing on the river were some who were etching words and symbols in the ice. Some of them were even carving images of their religion on the frozen surface.
Now, think back to mid-summer. This same river was full of bathers swimming and splashing in the warm water. Hundreds would come every day to enjoy and refresh themselves. One would not be able to even imagine standing atop the water, let alone playing upon its surface.
As the weeks wore on, the water began to get a little chillier, but nobody paid heed. With the progression of the seasons, people started to notice, and fewer bathers would be there. The hardiest fellows held out until autumn was well under way, but even these left eventually. And still, water is water, and nobody would try to walk across.
As the heavy winter settled in, the water got colder and eventually began forming ice. This progressed slowly, but eventually reached the point where people can walk on the river, skate upon it, and even etch a crucifix in the ice!
Exactly so is the heart of man. The yetzer hara (evil inclination) slowly introduces thoughts and feelings which cool down our devotion and enthusiasm for growth, slowly freezing a person’s heart. At the beginning, it is almost unnoticeable. But if action is not taken, the callous grows thicker and thicker, until he can no longer feel his soul. It can come to the point where he will be subject to completely foreign ideas, without realizing that a crucifix is being etched on his heart. That is what I saw down by the river.”
This week’s Torah portion, Parshas Mishpatim, deals with day-to-day laws; mundane matters which seem anticlimactic after the mighty revelation at Sinai just a few verses prior. But the Torah is teaching us an important lesson. The way to internalize and preserve the great inspiration we received is not by pondering secrets of the universe, nor is it by reveling in the emotion of the moment.
The way to keep warm is to introduce the Torah concepts that we have learned into the practical flow of everyday life. When we follow the Torah’s guidelines in our business interactions and with our friends and relatives, when we allow G-d into practical considerations of how to give a loan- or even to deal with a thief- then we stay not just warm, but burning hot.
Have a good Shabbos.
Rabbi Yehuda Beyda
Director of Oorah’s Rebbetzins