August 13, 2021 11:12 am at 11:12 am #1999547abukspanParticipant
Shoftim 2 — Learning From the Ant
שפטים ושטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך אשר ה’ אלקיך נתן לך לשבטיך ושפטו את העם משפט צדק
Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities — which Hashem, your G-d, gives you — for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment (Devarim 16:18).
In Mishlei (6:6-8), Shlomo HaMelech describes the industriousness of the ant and how we must learn from it: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; see its ways and grow wise. Though there is neither officer nor guard nor ruler over her, she prepares her food in the summer and stores up her food in the harvest time.”
The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 5:2) details how the ant has three houses (or floors), and it does not store its food in the top floor because of rain, and not in the bottom because of mud, but in the middle. In addition, it is incredibly hardworking, collecting more food than it can possibly need in many lifetimes (which last only six months). In fact, Rabbi Tanchuma said that an ant doesn’t eat more than a grain and a half of wheat its whole life, yet it gathers way, way more, thinking, “Maybe Hashem will allow me to live longer, and then I will need more food.”
The ant acts with extreme derech eretz, fleeing from theft and taking care not to take food that another ant has already laid claim to. Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta tells the story of a grain dropped by an ant. Though the rest of the ants came by and smelled the grain, not one of them stole it, until its owner finally came and took it. And all of this in the absence of any system of justice. Thus, concludes the Midrash, “You, for whom I have designated judges and officers, all the more so that you should listen to them…”
We can glean several lessons from reading the pesukim of Mishlei and the Midrash carefully. The obvious thrust of the pesukim is directed toward the lazy individual, instructing him to learn from the zealous productivity of the ant. If an ant works with an eye to the future, enthusiastically collecting its bounty at all times, then human beings must learn from the ant and its work ethic and zealously amass mitzvos, in order to reap their bounty in the World to Come. (See also Biur HaGra on Mishlei 6:6.)
Yet another admirable quality of the ant is how hard it works at storing and protecting its food. Rav Chizkiyahu Eliezer Kahan (Nachalas Eliezer, cited in Yalkut Lekach Tov) explains that the ant becomes the model we must follow in order to protect our hard-earned gains in the study of Torah, which Chazal (Chagigah 15a) describe as: “difficult to acquire as a golden vessel, yet as easy to lose as a glass one.”
The moist and muddy bottom chamber, where the grain could rot and spoil, describes a problem with the place itself, from the inside. The upper chamber, into which rain can fall, describes a problem coming from the outside. The ant is careful to guard its grain from problems within and without. So do we need to take notice, and be mindful of, dangers from within and from without.
Like the ant, we cannot live and hope to protect our Torah in an environment inhospitable to a spiritual life. We have to distance ourselves from wicked and sinful elements, which would otherwise harm our spiritual gains, and live in a makom Torah. As Rabbi Yose ben Kisma said (Avos 6:9), “Even if you were to give me all the silver and gold, precious stones, and pearls in the world, I would dwell nowhere but in a place of Torah.” We must never jeopardize our ruchniyus by living next to, or associating with, the wrong types.
Yet even when living in a makom Torah, one is not safe from outside influences and dangers, which can pop up out of nowhere. The ant’s upper chamber is fine on its own (it doesn’t have a moisture or a mud issue), yet it can be inundated and harmed from without. So, too, we must strengthen ourselves to push off, rebuff, and overcome the pressures from without.
Rav Kahan concludes: When a person learns from the ant the lessons it is offering us, he will merit that his Torah is preserved, just like the treasures of the ant are guarded and preserved, from within and without. And such a person will acquire Torah, which is more precious than gold, and that Torah will be safeguarded, even though it is as delicate as glass.
The opposite of laziness, atzlus, is alacrity, zerizus — not chochmah, wisdom. So if the sluggish individual is supposed to learn from the ant not to be lazy, shouldn’t the pasuk conclude with just such an admonishment: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; see its ways and grow industrious,” rather than, “See its ways and grow wise”?
Rav Eliyahu Lopian (Lev Eliyahu Shoftim) explains that we see from here that the root cause of laziness is tipshus, stupidity! It is not having a weak constitution, with no strength to get up and go, but a lack of chochmah, a lack of wisdom and foresight.
The ant has its eyes to the future, collecting vastly more than it needs, on the off chance that Hashem will grant it longer life. It epitomizes the principle of “Eizehu chacham haroeh es hanolad — Who is wise? One who looks toward the future” (Tamid 32a). We must take a look at the foresight of the enthusiastic ant, and become wise — to cease being lazy! The ant prepares for the remote possibility of a potentially longer lifetime. How much more must we use our time wisely, preparing for the next and eternal lifetime, something we know we have to look forward to. A lazy person lacks this wisdom; he lacks the ability to see into the future and is happy with what he has now. Shlomo therefore tells lazy people to learn the ways of the ant: to wisely prepare for your future, by doing mitzvos and good deeds — now.
Pharaoh saw this same wisdom and foresight in Yosef, when he not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dream but instructed him to prepare for the future. Pharaoh could chalk up the dream’s interpretation to Divine inspiration (Bereishis 41:38). But when Yosef instructed him in how to prepare for the future, that demonstrated a rare intelligence, leading Pharaoh to add (v.39), “There is nobody as wise and discerning as you.” Looking beyond the present and preparing for the future requires true wisdom. And for that reason, the trait the lazy person must learn from ants is wisdom, rather than assiduousness.
There are other reasons that the pasuk says to see the ant’s ways — and become wise. Not each aspect of the ant’s actions is praiseworthy and worthy of emulation. According to Rav Yosef Chaim Karo (Kol Omer Kra, Shoftim), the ant needlessly spends all its days amassing a phenomenal and totally unnecessary amount of food, utterly wasting its life in the pursuit of ever more gashmiyus. Is this the example we should follow? Is that how our lives should be spent? The answer is no, which is why Shlomo HaMelech instructs us, “See its ways and be wise and discerning,” to know what not to do. We must appoint “shoftim and shotrim,” meaning use our inner judges and policemen, to differentiate between the prudent and the foolhardy aspects of the ant’s life. Though we may learn from it to be productive and conscientious, we must also know that life is not all about the acquisition of wealth and possessions. (See also Binah LeIttim, derush #58.)
There is another important lesson to learn from the ant and the precise language employed by Shlomo HaMelech. The ant scrupulously avoids theft, even without an overseer. And the Midrash seems to be saying that if the ant is so honest, even without an overseer, we, too, should be careful in regard to theft. So again, why are we enjoined by the pasuk to see the ant’s ways and be wise, rather than see its ways and, in this case, be honest?
Rav Yaakov of Lisa (author of Nesivos Mishpat) writes in his sefer Nachalas Yaakov (see also Chiddushei HaRim on Mishlei), that we are looking at the Midrash the wrong way. First, the ant deserves no praise for refraining from theft, because that’s its nature. Similarly, if someone doesn’t steal because it’s his nature not to, that wouldn’t be praiseworthy. A person who avoids theft in order to be perceived as honest wouldn’t be particularly praiseworthy, either. There would be no value to being created without the nature to sin. We were created in order to rise above our nature. Additionally, though the ant does not take a grain claimed by another ant, that is not a reflection of its honesty, because, after all, where does it get all its food from to begin with? An outbreak of ants in the pantry, or on a picnic trip to the park, makes it eminently clear just how honest the ant really is. Every bit of its food is stolen!
Rather, we must look at what happens when there is no Torah system of justice, when a society’s conduct is allowed to organically grow. People may act neighborly and refined, not harming their own, but this is not a true reflection of their character, which is utterly dishonest and depraved (see Chiddushei HaRim on Parashas Shemini 11:19). The only way to avoid this is by appointing shoftim and shotrim, a full system of laws, judges, and a police force, according to the Torah.
Here, too, watch the ways of the ant — and learn how not to conduct yourselves. Do not live by a humanly conceived justice system, which may really be a system of injustice.
Instead, “Shoftim ve’shotrim titein lecha be’chol she’arecha,” set up a system based on authentic and true Torah morality.August 13, 2021 4:26 pm at 4:26 pm #1999712Always_Ask_QuestionsParticipant
Shmuel’s father used same layered approach, keeping orphan’s money hidden and between 2 layers of his own – top for robbers, lower for damageAugust 13, 2021 6:09 pm at 6:09 pm #1999720abukspanParticipant
thanx for the info!!August 13, 2021 6:28 pm at 6:28 pm #1999723Reb EliezerParticipant
The holy Shlah says that every person must place judges and police on one’s own gates, openings, ears, eyes and mouth to monitor what goes in and comes out and not be lazy but learn from the ant.August 13, 2021 6:44 pm at 6:44 pm #1999736commonsaychelParticipant
@AAQ, I prefer Meir Kahane layered approach, every Jew a .22
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