Study without Action is Not Study at All

Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and is currently studying at a yeshiva in Israel.  The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to Will.

At the end of last week’s Parsha, Moshe demanded of Hashem “Why have You done evil to this people?” (Shemos 5:22). This week Hashem turns the tables and reprimands Moshe: “I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov as Kel Shaddai (G-d as He works within nature and his Creation), but with My Name Havayah (yud, hei, vav, hei) I did not make Myself know to them (Va’eira 6:2).”  Rashi explains that Hashem was enjoining Moshe to follow the example of the Forefathers. But what virtues of the Fathers was Hashem telling Moshe to follow, why did Moshe ask his question, and what can we learn from this?

The difference between Moshe and the Forefathers was that Moshe embodied the attribute of Knowledge – hence why the Torah, which is the Divine Knowledge, was given through him[1] – and the Forefathers served Hashem primarily through the Emotions (Avraham through kindness, Yitzchak through fear, and Yaakov through mercy). Thus, Moshe brought a question against G-d because Knowledge or Intellect wishes to comprehend everything. When one who serves G-d through intellect comes across something he cannot understand it blocks him from continuing further in his service of G-d. Moshe wanted an explanation so that he could continue pursuing his path to G-d through knowledge.[2]

By contrast, the Fathers were all about action. Avraham never even questioned G-d when asked to sacrifice his son. A lack of comprehension of G-d or His actions and commands never prevented the Forefathers from carrying out their missions. And so Hashem revealed Himself only as KelShaddai or Elokim, i.e., how He appears in the world of plurality. But after the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, Hashem revealed Himself by his four-letter name – as infinite, transcending all divisions, and as a perfect Unity.[3] There was no longer a barrier between Knowledge and Emotion. In doing so, Hashem was telling Moshe to transcend the division and bridge the gap between Knowledge and Emotion. Sometimes one must serve Hashem even when one does not understand.

Serving G-d through emotion allows one to have a strong faith that goes beyond questions and leads to action. Love leads a person to perform the positive commandments (dos) and fear prevents a person from transgressing the negative commandments (don’ts).  Knowledge on its own can lead to a cold detachment. One can learn what to do, but the learner can lose his inclination to apply his knowledge. The lesson for us is that we cannot learn about Judaism solely in a cool, intellectual way. If something doesn’t make sense to us, that is no reason to dismiss, discard, or abandon it. We must serve Hashem with our faculties of emotion as well as intellect. The Divine intellect is infinite. Rejecting Torah and mitzvos because our finite minds cannot always grasp something – kosher for example – is an arrogant and poor excuse for defecting from our mission. Also, those who are wise and learned in Torah cannot simply learn without transforming their knowledge into action. Freedom came to the Jewish people when they united knowledge and practice. In the same way, when we draw down the Divine Knowledge into the world through our actions, we pave the way for the final redemption or Moshiach (Messianic era). May it come speedily and in our days.


[1] LK adapted by Sacks, Rabbi Jonathan Torah Studies. Page 86

[2]LK adapted by Sacks, Rabbi Jonathan Torah Studies. Page 87

[3]LK adapted by Sacks, Rabbi Jonathan Torah Studies. Page 88