Fidelity to the Necessities: Jewish Priorities and the Talmud

Anyone who has delved into the world of Talmud study knows that one of the primary pursuits of the Talmud is to clarify the priorities of the Torah within Jewish life. A classic example of this is when the commandment to keep Shabbat clashes with the commandment to save a life. In this case, the Talmud rules based on a verse in the Torah that it is appropriate to save the life—saving a life overrides Shabbat observance.

Another less known but more common example is when Torah study (considered the most refined form of spirituality, having no attachment to physical objects or actions) collides with doing a good deed (which is also spiritual, but usually attached to a particular physical object or action). Based on nuances in two verses, the Talmud instructs that in situations in which the good deed would be left undone were we not to do it, we ought to put aside Torah study in favor of doing the good deed, despite the fact that Torah study is more spiritually refined.

Compare this to ordering a birthday cake in a restaurant: If the waiter shows up with a cake without icing, that is perfectly acceptable. But imagine if the waiter shows up with just a tray of icing; you would certainly ask him where the cake is. What if he responded by saying that since the icing is the best part of the cake he figured he would just bring out a tray full of icing?

To this, there is only one response: A cake without icing is still a cake, but icing without cake is not a cake.

Oftentimes in life, if you do something great while neglecting a necessity in the process, you undermine the great thing by the disregard for the ordinary. For example, sometimes my wife sends me out shopping for Shabbat on Friday morning, but I am an easily distracted fellow . . .

I see some jewelry that's just her style, so I pick it up. Then flowers catch my eye, and I think to myself she'd like that, so I grab them too. Chocolate—is there even a question?

I mosey on home with a few hours left till Shabbat and knock on the door. I wait a few seconds and my wife opens it to the sight of me with an ear-to-ear grin and a gift basket full of wonderfulness.

But instead of her throwing her arms around me, I get a bewildered stare.

She looks behind me. Then to the side of me.

"Uh, where's the food for Shabbat?"

She might personally be more delighted with the gifts that I bought her and the fact that I bought them for her, but when I deliver the icing while forgetting the cake, I undermine the wonderfulness of the icing as well. Therefore, it is of great importance in life and in Judaism to get your priorities straight and put first things first.

8/1/2012 4:00:00 AM
Eliyahu Yaakov
About Eliyahu Yaakov
Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov is a sought after international speaker on Kabbalah, relationships, parenting, and life. His newly released book, Jewish By Choice: A Kabbalistic Take on Life & Judaism, recently hit #1 on Amazon's Best Seller list.