Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #22, “A good heart”
A good heart is a description of the whole person. It connotes kindness, compassion, a willingness to judge people favorably and to go out of the way to help them. What does this have to do with acquiring the Torah?
That is an intellectual task, or so it seems.
Acquisition of the Torah is, of course, an exercise of the mind. But it is more. The human being is a totality. A cruel person can be a genius, but a cruel person cannot acquire the Torah, no matter how innately brilliant.
William Butler Yeats wrote:
The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it takes the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
Pirkei Avot says no. There is no such choice, at least when intellect is used to acquire the Torah. Perfection of life — a good heart — is a necessary aid in the perfection of the work, the acquisition of the Torah.
Creative knowledge and character go hand in hand.
One who acquires the Torah needs a good heart.
One who has a good heart can acquire the Torah.
The human being is a totality. Knowledge of Torah is not only an intellectual acquisition. It shapes and suffuses the entire human being, not just the mind. By the same token, a good heart vitalizes one’s acquisition of Torah.
The 22nd way to acquire the Torah: A Good Heart.
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; Way #16a, Limited Marital Relations; Way #16b, Portion Control; Way #17, Limited Pleasure; Way #18, All nighters; Way #19, Limited Conversation; Way #20, Limited Entertainment; Way #21, Slowness to anger