In the sixth and last chapter of Pirkei Avot, the Saying of Our Fathers, here’s the first saying that spoke to me:

It says that a person who learns Torah lishma, will have amazing, amazing things happen to them, and will also have amazing influences on the world.

So, what does it mean that a person learns Torah lishma? Here is one way to explain it – A person learns Torah, while keeping in mind the purpose G-d had for giving people the Torah. And that purpose is to make the world a better place, and to be an extension of G-dliness, of bringing G-dliness into the world.

When that’s how the Torah is learned, then amazing things happen to the person who is learning.

First of all, he or she becomes the purpose for which Creation was created, and also a beloved friend of G-d. The person is considered to be upright and humble, righteous and royal, a leader and a person who deserves to have secrets revealed to them. The person becomes an overflowing wellspring, raised up above other people, all creatures.

They have this incredible power because they got their purposes right. They understand that Torah was given to make the highest, divine impact in the world. When you learn with that kind of spirit, it’s going to change you and it’s going to change the world, and everybody you come into contact with.

The second one is this – our Sages say that every day a divine voice goes out from Sinai, and it says, “Oy!” to the people who disregard Torah. So, we can wonder, “if this voice comes out every day, why can’t we hear it? And what does it mean to hear it?”

The Holy Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, whose yartzeit is the day after Shavuos, said we DO hear it, every one of us. We’d have to be prophets to hear it, but for us, it’s part of our natural thoughts. G-d is planting it in our natural, organic thinking process, and it’s basically G-d telling us to get it together as the Torah internalizes itself into our thoughts, and tells us what needs to be done to fix up ourselves and the world. So, that’s what’s happening here.

The third one is this – the path of Torah is what most people would call deprivation. For example, you sit on the ground, you eat salt and water and you’re detached from the things of this world. When we do that, we free ourselves up. It’s not that Judaism teaches asceticism, per se.

We’re not talking about going up a mountain and sitting in a yoga position, separating ourselves from the world. To a certain extent we do separate, and it’s good… but here we’re talking about bringing Torah into your life in the most perfect way. When you live with equanimity, when you live with detachment, when you’re not crazy about eating and sleeping and pleasure, and all the rest of the worldly stuff, then your mind and your spirit are free to receive Torah in this way.

There are 48 ways listed here, ways to acquire Torah. Some of my favorites from this list are:

  • Be a listener. When somebody is teaching you or talking to you, don’t think about what you have to say back, or what you think about the situation. Simply listen completely to what they have to say.
  • Articulate clearly what you want to say. It’s an art to be able to say exactly what you want to say.
  • Assist scholars in their study. Our Sages say that the greatest lessons they learn were so not so much the receiving of Torah information from a person, but rather, observing how that person lives and learning from watching them as they live their day-to-day life. It can be a great educational experience.
  • Debate with others. In yeshivas there is great deliberation and students talk things out. Yeshivas are breeding grounds for questions and answers. People are always saying, “This doesn’t make sense…” and it’s encouraged. The more questions, the better. We learn from one of the greatest Sages of modern times, the Holy Arizal, Rabbi Issac Luria, who would walk into an everyday study hall with one purpose – to eliminate any doubts at all about everything he had learned that day. He became a warrior of doubts. That’s who he was, that’s what he did, that’s what yeshiva is. You’ve got questions? Ask them and ask them until things become completely clear.
  • Learn in order to teach. If you learn just to learn, that’s one level. But if you learn in order to teach, you’ll learn it twice as well.

The next saying is this – if a person is offered a choice between a comfortable, wealthy life where there is no other Torah being actively learned in that place, or a life that involves struggle and poverty, but one which offers a huge amount, a renaissance of Torah, then the choice should be clear. The Sages suggest exiling yourself to a place where there are other people for whom Torah is primary, and there’s talk and deliberation for your growth.

If you don’t, and you go to far-out places that are just “out there,” and they are just comfortable, you may forget all your Torah because you’re not living it, and it may be difficult to be in that comfortable atmosphere for long.

The next one is this – what we can take with us in the World-to-Come, the post life, is not riches or honor or things of this world, but the currency we take with us is our good deeds and our Torah. When a person knows that, they approach Torah differently.

And finally, here’s the way the Sayings of The Fathers concludes by quoting a Sage who said that Hashem wanted to purify and refine the Jewish people, and therefore he gave them a whole lot of mitzvoth. 613 is just the number to start with, there are actually far more than that. Hashem gave them a lot of Torah and a lot of mitzvoth, because the more we have, the more purified we become.

The Jewish people in their raw state, without Torah, are some of the most brazen people in the world. The Talmud lists the most brazen of animals, the most brazen of plants, the most brazen of people, who are the Jewish people who don’t have Torah.

G-d loves us, and he gave us this huge amount of Torah and mitzvoth just to purify and refine us, and it’s why we have so many observances going on, and so many things to do. It’s to mitigate the rough edges on the corners of who we are as a people.