Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #16, “Limited marital relations”
Some translations render mi’ut derech eretz as “limited worldly matters.” This does not seem to be the connotation here because Pirkei Avot has already said that to acquire the Torah, one must limit one’s business activity, and will shortly say that one must also limit one’s pleasure, sleep, conversation and entertainment. What other worldly matters are there? Only two: intimacy, and eating and drinking. (There is also entertainment, but derech eretz never connotes entertainment. Next week we shall address limited eating and drinking).
In an age in which no limits on intimate relations are deemed appropriate, the result is a paradox: Less satisfaction. More divorces. More frustration. Sometimes, de facto celebacy.
Which means that the converse is true: With limits placed on intimate relations, the result is straighforward: More satisfaction. Less divorce. Less frustration. Less celibacy.
Rabbi Israel Salanter said: “When immersed, red-hot iron heats freezing-cold water, but at the same time, it itself becomes progressively colder.” So it is with unlimited intimacy. It becomes progressively colder. The acquisition of the Torah is aided by sustained desire.
If a student of Torah is existentially frustrated, his or her acquisition of Torah will be stultified. Which validates the converse: existential satisfaction frees the mind and soul to acquire the Torah.
The 16th way to acquire the Torah: Limited Marital Relations.
Way #1, Study; Way #2, Listen; Way #3, Articulate Speech; Way #4, Understanding of the Heart; Way #5, An Intelligent Heart; Way #6, Awe; Way #7, Fear; Way #8, Humility; Way #9a, Joy; Way #9b, Purity; Way #10, Serving the Sages; Way #11, Interaction with colleagues; Way #12, Exchanges with students; Way #13, Deliberation; Way #14, Scripture; Way #15a, Mishnah; Way #15b, Limited Business Activity
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