He (Hillel) used to say: A boor is not one who fears sin; nor can an ignorant person be pious. A shy person does not learn, and an [overly] strict person is not one who can teach. And not everyone who increases commerce (“sechorah”) becomes wise. And in a place where there are no “people,” attempt to be a “person.”
“Not everyone who increases commerce (“sechorah”) becomes wise.” This is understood through a section in Eiruvin (55a): “It is not in heaven” (Devarim 30:12). Rebbi Yochanan says: You will not find it (Torah) in arrogant people (“gassei ruach”). “And it is not across the ocean.” You will not find Torah in traders (“sachranim”) and peddlers.
We need to understand what is unique about arrogant people and traders that Rebbi Yochanan taught that Torah is not found among them.
We also need to understand how the continuation of the verse is then to be understood: “It is not in heaven and it is not across the ocean. For it is very close; (it is) in your mouth and in your heart to do it.
The verses are coming to teach us that the Torah is not a physical, corporeal matter. The measure of distance is a property of physical things. Sometimes things can be so far away that we have no access to them. Here, we are being taught that the intellectual/spiritual Torah is not like that. As a non- physical reality it is simultaneously both near and far. It is far away, due to its elevated attributes (being “way above” us). Yet it is [considered] near, since it is not distant from any specific place. Therefore, it is written that the Torah is not beyond us and not far from us. (Only physical things can be said to have a specific location in space, making them close to some things and far from other things. Due to the Torah’s non- physical nature, it has no specific location. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch develops this theme in a beautiful way in his discussion of the Mishkan and its vessels, contrasting the Aron that housed the Torah and had carrying poles that were never removed, with other vessels that had the poles that were only inserted for the actual moving. See Hirsch on Shemoth Ch. 25, V12-15.)
The verse mentions the three different [distance] dimensions that are relevant to the material: height, length and width. In relation to “height” it is written “It is not in heaven,” heaven being the frame of reference for physical height. In relation to “length” and “width” it is written “It is not across the ocean.” (As the ocean spans the length and width of the earth, it is used as the metaphor for something that is long and wide.) Torah has no corporeal dimensions.
It is for this reason that Torah is not found in arrogant people. Arrogant people imagine that they are above everything else. This is a result of their connection to the material, and it is well known that arrogance is a character trait of man’s material dimension. While the greatness that the arrogant person perceives in himself is fictitious, the perception results from a connection to the material. Even the word for the arrogant person, “Gass ruach,” indicates this. “Gass” means thick, heavy and coarse, which is trait of the physical. Sechel, the dimension of the spiritual/intellectual, is fine, light and pure. (Compare music that appeals to our animal side with music that brings out our spiritual and intellectual side.) An arrogant person, connected to the physical dimension, cannot develop a relationship with Torah, which requires a connection to the transcendent dimension.
(We have mentioned previously the profound and insightful writings of Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski on arrogance and humility, insecurity and self-awareness. This section of the Maharal presents some of the theoretical foundations for the empirical and psychological work of Rabbi Twerski. A person who is rooted in his physical existence is by nature insecure, since all material things are finite and in a state of deterioration. The person therefore doubts (rightly) the stability of his existence. This insecurity causes a person to behave in arrogant ways, working to convince himself and others that he really exists, something which, way down deep, he doubts. Scratch below the surface of an arrogant person and you will find an insecure person, always letting others know that he is there, that he did this great thing, and that he is really better than anyone else. A person who has a clear sense of his self-worth doesn’t need to have it validated by outside sources, which leads to a natural humility. Not because he thinks he is something lowly, but exactly because he knows his greatness and his potential. Humility and security go together. Only a person connected to a dimension that transcends the physical can recognize this greatness and live with the needed security in the value and stability of his existence. It is exactly this greatness and potential that brings a person to utilize those resources in humble accomplishment. For he realizes that with greatness, with talents, with resources, comes responsibility to utilize all those things in the service of G-d. No fanfare, no publicity, just service of his Creator because it if for that reason that he exists, for that reason he has been given these resources, and utilizing them is the deepest source of his continued existence. It is a trick of the “yetzer hara” (translated as evil inclination, but which I define as no more than an individual’s insecurities) to convince a person — in the guise of humility — that the person has no ability, no talent, no worth, and is really not much better that a piece of dirt. What is the result of this self-concept? “What can G-d expect from a “nothing?” Nothing! And he rationalizes all kinds of destructive behavior, since the person views himself as a weak and worthless victim.
(It is painful to think about how much of our social culture is built on this attitude.)
In a similar way we understand why Torah is not found in traders (“sachranim”). Traders travel the world, its length and width, in search of material acquisitions. These people are called “sachranim” from the root “l’schor” whose root appears in Breishith (42:34) implying movement and travel around the land in search of business. Their incessant travels in search of profit (in contrast to people who seek their livelihood in closer proximity) span the dimensions of the world associated with the corporeal (length and width), and this is the result of their connection to the material. Being rooted in the material means they are distant from Torah, which is found on a transcendent plane. (No pun intended! :-)) This is the basis for our lesson “Not everyone who increases commerce (“sechorah”) becomes wise.” We are not referring to someone involved in making a living. Rather, the Tana is referring to those who make their living with an unnecessary connection to the physical dimension of the world. Their connection to this dimension of existence distances them from a connection to Torah and wisdom.