Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #28, “Claim no credit”
An old joke runs like this. Two Novorodock yeshiva students try to train themselves in the admirable trait of humility. One says to the other: “I’m a nothing, absolutely worthless.” The second student says, “Me, too. Totally worthless.” A third student, a newcomer to the yeshiva, overhears this, sits down and says, “I’m a nothing, absolutely worthless.” The first student turns to the second and says, “Just who does he think he is to call himself a nothing?”
Just as arrogance can be disguised by the pursuit of humility, knowledge of Torah can distort a student of Torah.
An occupational hazard in the acquisition of the Torah is pride, especially if one is a successful student. Knowledge of the Torah bestows a sense of power. If G-d speaks through the Torah, then mastery of a part of the Torah can inflate one’s ego: G-d speaks through me!
Falling prey to this pitfall, one’s acquisition of the Torah will plateau. For if G-d is infinite, then even the successful acquisition of His word should leave one humble. No one can approach G-d’s infinite wisdom. So do not take credit for your success. Let it not loom large in your eyes.
The 28th way to acquire the Torah: Claiming No Credit for Oneself.
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; Way #22, A good heart; Way #23, Faith in the sages; Way #24, Acceptance of suffering; Way #25, Knowing one’s place; Way #26, Happiness with one’s lot; Way #27, Have a filter