Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | July 5, 2018

Air is Free

There’s an old joke that goes like this:

Q: Why do Jews have big noses?

A: Because air is free.

freeThe humor is built upon the fact that Jews are known to value money, and in a derogatory fashion, the idea is that they will take a lot of something if it doesn’t cost them anything.  In truth, it is a compliment to us that we value the money HaShem gives us and what can be done with it.  Even our forefather Yaakov (Jacob) went back for his bottle deposit.

Jews have big noses because air is free.  So here’s MY question: Why is air free?

OK, so it’s not my question.  It’s actually the Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart, written by R. Bachya ibn Pakuda in approximately the year 1040) who answers that question.  He explains that the more necessary something is for life, the more abundant it is and the lower the cost.  Therefore, air, which is needed constantly, by everyone, is available everywhere on earth, and it is free (for now, at least.)

Water, which is still very necessary, just not as much as air, is relatively available, and is cheap.  Gold and silver, by comparison, are rarer and more expensive, because we don’t have a real need for them.

It got me to thinking.  In the last few years, we’ve seen an economic downturn of epic proportions.  Whereas in years past, people were making money hand over fist, and the world on the whole had a lot of money, now people are without work and money is very hard to come by.

I wonder if HaShem is trying to tell us that money isn’t as important as we think it is.  Of course, we need money for necessities like food, shelter, tuition, and tzedaka, but the money available for luxuries and whimsy is just not as abundant as it used to be.  Family time is much more abundant than it used to be, even if people wish they had jobs to spend long hours at to be making the money they used to make.  That tells us that family time should be recognized as something important to our continued existence.

Using this same logic, that the more abundant something is, the more important it is for our good health, I have noticed a dramatic increase in one area that many of you have likely noticed, but may not have made the connection.  It would seem to me that this has become ubiquitous and cheap, if not free.  The commodity to which I refer?

Torah.

Thanks to today’s technology, we have so many people publishing Divrei Torah in electronic mediums.  You can read thousands of pages of Torah a week in your e-mail or on the web, and we’re way beyond Dial-a-shiur.  You can watch or listen to classes from around the world at the touch of a button, download them to your smartphone and take them anywhere.

Torah has become like air.  It is abundant and free, and that should tell us something.  THIS is a necessity, and THIS is what we should be seeking out.  When people don’t know what to do, they often say, “G-d – Give me a sign!”  Well, HaShem has given us a sign.  He has made it possible for us to accumulate Torah easier than bending down to pick money up off the street.  That tells us that this is essential for our lives as Jews, Members of the Tribe.

Whereas people looking for information used to open a book, which meant going to a library, now we just search for things on the web.  When we wanted to learn, you had to have a sefer, which meant carrying around heavy books, or going to a shul or Bais Midrash to find what you need.  Today, you can access millions of pages of Torah in the palm of your hand and you don’t even have to buy the sefer.

R’ Akiva famously compared the Jew to a fish who could not live out of water.  It needs to be surrounded by water or it will die.  We are surrounded by Torah like air.  In fact, the air around us is full of Torah data flowing through wi-fi networks.  All we need to do is realize this and breathe it in.

The more abundant something is, the more necessary it is for our existence.  Torah today is more readily available than ever before in history.  To me, this can only mean it is more necessary than ever before, whether to protect us from the falsehood of modern society, to prepare us for the advent of Moshiach, or both.

You can find hundreds if not thousands of sources for Torah on demand.  Make it happen for yourself because it’s more vital than you can imagine.  Torah is everywhere – take a deep breath and savor it.

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