Make your Torah study a fixed practice;
say little and do much;
and receive everyone with a cheerful face.
Shammai lived and taught at the same time as Hillel. The two rabbis complemented each other, offering somewhat different interpretations and reasoning and thereby expanding Torah knowledge. Their disciples took their approaches and eventually formed two “schools” of study. Generally Hillel took an expansive and open approach while Shammai opted for a stricter, closer reading of the texts.
Make your Torah study a fixed practice. For all of us, whether we are studying the Torah, the Christian scriptures, or something else – Shammai advises us to make this a “fixed practice”. What does he mean?
Clearly he means that we must take it seriously. Seriously enough that we organize our day around it – making sure that we have the time, the energy, and the environment that we need to do our study well. It is not something to be squeezed in when we have a free moment. It is not something that we’ll get to later if we have time. It is not an “option” for us.
Whether it’s exercise time, prayer time, spouse-time or something else for us – some things are important enough for us that we make sure we devote the resources to them that they deserve. We can see what happens in our lives and the lives of others when they DON’T do that – heart attacks, loneliness, divorces and all.
Well, ancient wisdom tells us that the same is true for us with scripture. Study it and learn, study it with others and grow, invest ourselves in it and let God reach out through the texts to change us. Do it as a fixed practice – early in the morning, in the middle of the day, right after dinner – whenever is best for you. Much of what is wrong in our world today can be seen as what happens when we don’t.
Generally a fixed practice works best when you can control the environment – eliminating distractions and controlling your temptations.
I know that if I were ever to do all the things I am “supposed to do” each day (exercise, eating right, work, prayer, 8 hours of sleep …) that it would take more than 24 hours. This is the challenge of modern life for us all. Nevertheless, we are clearly doing some things (watching TV, surfing the net, etc.) that chew up time and energy for us. The wisdom of the ages is this – get the important things fixed in our lives and let the other things fall away or receive reduced time.
(We often think that only our age is so busy. What a crazy idea! People in past ages often worked from sunup to sundown just to survive. Talk about stress! Talk about being exhausted! We have it pretty good in this world and this time – if we can only get ourselves and our lives rightly ordered.)
Say little and do much. ‘Nuff said. This ranks way up there in the list of hall of fame pieces of good advice. What we study should change us as people and should change what we do and how we do it.
Receive everyone with a cheerful face. This comes close to the above! It’s clear, makes sense, and makes the world a better place. Why do we hesitate to smile? The ultimate message of our faith is joy, isn’t it? (If it isn’t – what in the world are you reading???? – it sure isn’t my bible!)
In the end, all three sayings are well-connected.
Make our study of scripture a fixed and important part of our lives. It WILL fill us with joy and love and peace. It will lead us to be humble and active in our world – loving and serving others. We will say little and do much. And we will be happy – greeting others with joy. A life ordered around study of the Word of God / Scripture will become integrated, whole, healthy, and happy.
We’ll even have enough time left over to sit outside of a cafe in France and have a beer with friends! Life doesn’t get much better than that!