IF one asks a student to-day why he studies, he will at once, in spite of his youth, give a very practical answer. He mentions the profession for which he is preparing himself, and through which he will obtain a lucrative office or a comfortable position in life.
It is entirely different with those who expended their time and powers on the study of the Talmud. They wished to derive no profit from their studies; not to use them, as a Mishna teacher says, ‘as a spade to dig wherewith nor as a crown wherewith to aggrandise oneself’. ‘Say not’, exclaims the Talmud, ‘I will study the Torah in order that people may call me Sage or Master, but study from pure love to God, to cleave more closely unto Him through the knowledge and understanding of His word.’
Day and night did they bury themselves in the study of subjects that had nothing to do with social life or with gain; often they became engrossed in the investigation of laws of sacrifices and purification, although these had long since grown obsolete. They desired nothing but knowledge, understanding, illumination. Where is there another people on earth among whom studies which aimed only at truth and the development of the spiritual life were cultivated with such pure, devoted, and selfless love as in Israel?
A. JELLINEK, 1882.