> Rabbi Noah > Reflections

Living with Our Souls

May 8, 2009 | by Debbie Gutfreund

I can hear the echo of Rav Noach's words: You need to learn. You need to teach. You need to live with what you know.

I was surprised that Rav Noach, zt"l, took my phone call at all. He didn't know me, and he had just returned from an overseas trip. Given his exhausting schedule, anybody else would have either not taken the phone call or at least kept it short. But Rav Noach spent a half hour on the phone going over the basics with me. I was in the middle of a challenging situation in my life, and I needed advice.

"Do you know what you're living for?" Rav Noach asked me. I had thought that I knew but hearing the question articulated made me pause. Did I really know what I was living for? Suddenly, I wasn't so sure. But I wanted a practical solution.

"Tell me what I should do," I said to the Rav.

"Do you know the six constant mitzvoth? Are you reviewing them every day? Do you live them? That's the secret to real happiness. And after you learn them again you need to teach them."

I was silent on the other end of the line. I'm not a teacher. Who would I teach?
"Whatever we know we can teach. We all have an obligation to share what we learn." After I hung up the phone I re-learned the six constant mitzvot, and I spent that month reviewing them and integrating them into my life:

  1. Know there is a God
  2. Don't believe in other gods
  3. God is one
  4. Love God
  5. Fear God
  6. Don't be misled by your heart and eyes

Learning and reviewing the six constant mitzvot did help me deal with the particular challenge at the time, but then life became busy. I got distracted by all the urgent matters of daily life, and I forgot to teach what I had learned. Anytime I would remember that I was supposed to share what I had learned I let the old, familiar protests take over. Who would I teach? I don't really know it well enough anyway. Maybe tomorrow I'll do it. Maybe next week. Maybe next month. And soon I forgot not only about teaching but about the six constant mitzvot themselves.

When I heard of Rav Noach's passing I felt a wave of grief wash over me followed by a pang of regret. I tried to remember the whole conversation that I had been blessed to have with the Rosh Yeshiva. What had he told me to do? Why couldn't I remember? And then a day after he passed away, like a free gift directly from Rav Noach in Heaven, I remembered. The six constant mitzvot -- learn them, teach them, live them.

That Saturday night a neighbor passed away, and I found myself standing for the first time at a funeral in Israel. I had known that there are no coffins here, but actually seeing this was shocking. In the end our bodies literally go back to dust. In the funeral parlor I saw the famous sentence: "When a person leaves this world he does not take with him his money or jewelry or possessions. All we take with us are the words of Torah that we have learned and the good deeds that we have done." But as we were driving home, I looked out at the hundreds of tiny lights dotting the Judean Hills and I suddenly realized what Rav Noach had been telling me months before on the phone. It's not just when we die that we only take with us our Torah and our good deeds. It's also all we really have when we're alive. That is why Rav Noach always said: Identify with your soul, not your body.

The six constant mitzvot demand that we focus on our souls. They outline the goals of our lives; they show us how to be and how to focus. The first of the six mitzvot tells us not just to believe there is a God. We need to know. And in order to know we need to ask questions and search for true answers. And once we know that God exists and is the Source of everything then that knowledge obligates each of us to change the world. Because, as Rav Noach wrote in his article of "Know There is a God": "What can one person do? One person can accomplish anything and everything -- since it's all a gift from God anyway! Now we can understand why the Torah obligates each and every one of us to change the world."

Rav Noach Weinberg lived this wisdom until his last day. His shining example and teachings are still with all of us. And now more than ever, I can hear the echo of his words. You need to learn. You need to teach. You need to live with what you know. And you need to ask yourself every day: What am I living for? Take care of your body but live with your soul.

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