Oxygen of Torah - In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef ZL)
But you who are dedicated to G-d's word (Torah) are all alive today. (Deuteronomy 4:4) This verse is recited by the entire congregation when the Kohen is called for the Torah reading.
The Talmud (200CE 500 CE; Berachos 61b) relates the episode when Rebbe Akiva was gathering people to the study halls of Torah in violation of Roman laws.
Papus ben Yehuda asked Rebbe Akiva (50 CE 135 CE), are you not fearful of the Roman decree? Rebbe Akiva answered with a parable:
The fox asked the fish, why are you constantly moving? The fish retorted, we are moving out of fear of the fishermen's nets. The fox suggested the fish come up to dry land and he would protect the fish from their captors just as he had helped the fish's forefathers and protected them as well. The fish answered the fox, Are you the one known as the cleverest of all animals? You are a fool. If in a place where we can survive we are threatened with death, certainly on dry land, where we cannot survive, we will die.
Rebbe Akiva continued, If we Jews are threatened when we study Torah, our source for survival (see Deuteronomy 30:20), certainly we are more threatened if we do not study Torah.
Rebbe Akiva was comparing Jews without Torah to fish out of water; just as a fish cannot survive without water, so, too, a Jew cannot live a Torah life unless he is constantly immersed in Torah. Water is the oxygen for the fish and water is the oxygen for our souls. Without it we cannot survive.
A life of Torah cannot be achieved through occasional observance during convenient times when it's easy. A life of Torah sometimes involves immense challenges and even life-threatening situations. A life of Torah must be constant. Just as a fish out of water cannot breathe, a Jewish community cannot be a place of Torah unless it is always a place of Torah.
Chag Sameach Happy Holiday