HaRagel B’Ner havyan leih banim Talmidei Chochomim …One who is accustomed with a candle will have sons who are Talmud scholars. (Tractate Shabbos)
a candle: The candle of Shabbos and the candle of Chanukah (Rashi)
The Talmud seems to promise that if someone simply lights Shabbos and Chanukah candles they will have sons who are Talmud scholars. We have to assume that this is not automatic because our experience teaches us that it does not always turn out that way. Many good people light both Shabbos and Chanukah candles and not always does it result in sons who are Talmud scholars. Obviously there are more factors at play here and many moving parts in the development of a child. What then is the Talmud telling us?
The Sefas Emes has a creative explanation of these words of the Talmud, “HaRagel B’Ner havyan leih banim Talmidei Chochomim – One who is accustomed with a candle will have sons who are Talmud scholars” … Someone who does what is normally done with “ragilos” in a customary way, habitually, but they do it with NER, NUN- REISH, (the Hebrew letters for candle) – and NUN REISH stand for NESHAMA and RUACH… they do the Mitzvah with let us say heart and soul, they put their entire being into it, then the result is sons who are Talmud scholars.
Alternately he explains that the numerical value of NER – NUN REISH is 250 which corresponds to the 248 Positive –Active Mitzvos plus AHAVA and YIRA- LOVE and FEAR! Ultimately it is the doing of the regular infused with heart that makes the big difference.
Now how does that produce sons who are Talmud scholars? The Sefas explains according to the Rashi in the beginning of Noach… where it begins, “These are the generations of Noach, Noach was a perfectly righteous man in his time…” Why does it not list immediately the progeny of Noach? Noach produced Noach! Rashi says, “The main progeny of the righteous are their good deeds.” Noach launched angels to an eternal realm through his performance of good deeds. Actions done with excitement and a full heart produce angels that are healthy and strong. Half-hearted Mitzvos produce angels with heart problems. The hearty ones are the are the sons who are Talmud scholars according to one explanation of Sefas Emes.
Another approach is that doing ordinary Mitzvos with heart and soul has a horizontal effect in this world as well. Every attitude is contagious. That’s the good news and the bad news. Enthusiasm for Mitzvos is contagious. It’s very much like the way we light a Menorah. One candle directly lights another. That one candle can light many candle and not lose any of its light. Similarly, when one is excited about Torah and Mitzvos that excitement travels especially to one’s children. Children study and detect the parent’s real attitude about things.
That’s why is says in the first paragraph of Shema, “…And these words which I command you today, you shall place them upon your heart and teach them to your children…” Why do they have to be placed on the heart first? Kids read the heart. They know if we mean business or not. Is this business of Mitzvos something regular or is it extraordinary?
Now we can better undertand the hidden promise of the Talmud, “HaRagel B’Ner havyan leih banim Talmidei Chochomim”. Someone once said that, “Yiddishkeit is not taught, it’s caught!”