Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #36, “Taking no joy from issuing halachic rulings”
Imagine. I’ve worked myself all the way up to a justice on the Supreme Court. I stand at the top of my profession and the top of the country. To boot, it’s a lifetime position. Every word I write in a ruling is carefully scrutinized, especially if I write for the majority. The prestige! The professional joy!
With Torah law, it is the opposite. I quake if I have worked myself up to the top — if I am relied on to determine the intent of the Torah in practice, that is, to issue halachic rulings.
People rely on me to get it right, but since it is not my personal opinion that counts, nor even my personal reading of precedent, I quake. In trying objectively to ascertain the true reading of the Torah, it is the voice of G-d Whom I represent. I quake.
If I fail, I not only fail the people who’ve turned to me for a ruling; I endanger my own standing before G-d.
If I take joy in my position, I am reveling in my power or my knowledge or my status. If so, I am more likely to fail than if, yes, I do rejoice in the opportunity to penetrate the Torah to its innermost parts but feel the weight of the opportunity and act accordingly.
The 36th way to acquire the Torah: Taking No Joy in Issuing Halachic Rulings.
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; Way #28, Claim no credit; Way #29, Being beloved; Way #30, Loving the Omnipresent; Way #31, Loving G-d’s creatures; Way #31b, Loving acts of charity; Way #32, Loving reproof; Way #33, Loving integrity; Way #34, Shunning honors; Way #35, Loving integrity