If I am not for myself, who is for me?
And if I am only for myself, what am I?
Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
The Talmud relates that the Ark in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy
Temple) in Jerusalem, which held the Two Tablets inscribed
with the Ten Commandments, possessed most unusual physical
qualities. The Torah specifies the Arks dimensions:
Two cubits and a half should be its length, a cubit
and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. Nevertheless, says the Talmud, the Ark did not
occupy any of the space of the chamber that housed it. Miraculously,
The area of the Ark was not part of the measurement.
What was the point of this amazing miracle? Man, in his quest
to better himself, is forever faced with a dilemma. Should
he strive to break free of his nature and its limitations?
Or, is it preferable to work within the parameters of his
natural self, to make the most of what he is?
Each goal has its advantages and shortcomings. It would seem
that to attain perfection man must reach beyond what he is,
as every individual has his inherent limits and deficiencies.
Yet lofty, spiritual experiences often remain
outside of a persons reality, failing to translate into
anything tangible in his daily life.
The Arks physics teach us that the two
goals are not mutually exclusive. The Ark transcended the
spatial, yet retained all of its qualities. In the same way,
no matter how high a person reaches, his attainments always
can, and must, be made part of his pedestrian, human self.
A life lived according to Torah (which the Ark, container
of the Ten Commandments, represents) enables man to reach
beyond the confines and dictates of his physical environment
and society. At the same time, it insists that he make this
greater reality his reality that it become an integral
part of his own nature, character and everyday behavior.
If not now, when?
Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
Our world is a banquet, proclaims the Talmud. Grab
and eat, grab and drink.
Those who arrived during the early hours of the banquet went
about their feasting and dining in a most professional and
methodical manner. First, they sampled the appetizersjust
enough, mind you, to properly whet their appetites. They then
proceeded up the ladder of courses and wines, carefully negotiating
their way to gastronomic satisfaction par excellence.
But what of the group who arrived a few scant minutes before
midnight, the hour when the tables were to be cleared, the
chairs stacked and the doors bolted shut? For them to attempt
to follow the course outlined by the intricate rules of dinner
etiquette would only guarantee that the doors would slam on
their empty stomachs. Just grab! we tell them.
Grab meat, salads, soup, wine and fishnever mind the
order and proportion. Its a race against the clock:
Grab and eat, grab and drink....
In earlier generations, there was a well-defined Standard
Operating Procedure for those who consulted the Torahs
spiritual menu for the banquet of life. No one, for example,
would have ventured to sample the esoteric wine of creations
secrets before filling his belly with the meat and potatoes
of Talmud and halacha.
No one would have been so presumptuous as to believe that
he could refine his nature and character before he had perfected
his behavior and made his every act, word and thought utterly
conform to Torahs directives.
All this, however, was a luxury of generations bygone. Today,
we are rapidly approaching the climax of history the
day when Moshiach will herald a new era of goodness and perfection,
yet will also bring down the curtain on the struggles and
attainments that stem from our currently imperfect state.
So grab! Grab another mitzvah, master another, yet deeper,
facet of Torah. Never mind the Standard Operating Procedurestrive
for the ultimate, now.
This is an excerpt from "Beyond the Letter of the
Law" by Yanki Tauber published by The Meaningful Life
 Exodus 25:10. A cubit is approximately 20 inches