(1) Studying to Transcend; (2) Listening to Change
Chapter 6, Mishna 6
By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
"Torah is greater than priesthood and kingship, for kingship is acquired with 30 qualities, priesthood is acquired with 24, whereas the Torah is acquired with 48 ways. These are: (1) study, (2) attentive listening..."
Last week we introduced the 48 Ways and observed that unlike kingship and priesthood, the Torah is available to us all and may be acquired by means within our abilities. This week we will begin to discuss the qualities themselves. We will cover a few qualities each week.
(1) Study: Needless to say, it all begins with study. Although practically the entire remainder of our mishna will teach us that intellectual achievement alone hardly produces a Torah scholar -- if it is not accompanied with spirituality, humility and personal growth -- nevertheless, it all begins here.
The most striking feature of the student of Torah -- especially in the earlier part of his career (and we're talking about the first of the 48 Ways) -- is his intense love for Torah study and understanding G-d's word. In yeshivas (rabbinical colleges), it is often the younger students who get completely lost in their studies, studying ceaselessly throughout the day and until crazy hours of the night (possibly or possibly not waking up on time the next morning). As they age and mature, they will become more composed in their studies and will become overall more balanced individuals. (They'll also learn how to get up on time.) But at first, they go crazy over learning.
Why is this? Because such people have fallen in love. This is the first and most natural reaction the seeker has when he first discovers the Torah. He cannot get enough. One who sees truth does not -- *can* not -- behave "normally" about Torah study -- treating it like a 9-5 occupation. He is seeking, and he is energized by his burning desire for truth and by the infinite depth and beauty of G-d's law. And like any other person in love, he will be able to think of very little else till he has found the meaning his soul so deeply desires.
(We at Torah.org often hear from individuals excitedly signed up to 37 classes. (And that's at Torah.org alone -- not to mention umpteen other on- line Torah organizations they're charter members of.) We can always tell who the beginners are...) ;-)
In the beginning of the Book of Joshua, G-d instructs Joshua to "meditate in it (the Torah) day and night" (Joshua 1:8). We may observe that Torah study is an unusual mitzvah (commandment) in this regard. It is not time bound. Virtually all the other positive mitzvos apply on a more limited scope -- we perform them on a specific date, at a specific time, or in a specific manner. The Torah never just tells us to "do them always." Torah study, however, is different. It is a "permanent" mitzvah, and neither Scripture nor the Sages place any sort of limit on how much one may study.
The reason for this distinction is because every other mitzvah has a defined purpose and scope. It improves us, as well as the world about us, in its own special way. We discussed recently (in our introduction to Chapter 6 -- http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter6-intro.html) that the focus of the mitzvos is on living *in* this world -- ethically and spiritually, but primarily to instruct us in living normally in the physical world. And towards this noble goal, each mitzvah has its own time and place and improves us in its own special way.
Torah study is different. It does not provide us a means of living *in* this world. It transports us *out* of it. It allows us to transcend the finite world and build a relationship with G-d Himself. Thus, Torah study is not time-bound. It does not relate to a single time or aspect of this world. It relates to a world beyond time and space. And one who studies Torah with a true and sincere heart will savor the infinity beyond the day and night of the physical realm. (Based in part on a lecture from R. Yitzchak Berkovits of Jerusalem.)
It has also been observed that this grand and challenging verse appears in the Book of Joshua and not in the Pentateuch (the Five Books of Moses). What appears in the Pentateuch is universal in scope. We must all observe the Sabbath, keep kosher, and honor our parents. (And those laws which only apply to one segment of the population, we all at least study.) The Book of Joshua, however, is not as universal. It challenges those who are capable to much loftier goals. Setting aside daily time for Torah study is incumbent upon every Jew -- to all who are instructed to "teach them to your sons and speak in them" (Deut. 6:7). Daily Torah study forms an essential part of our day, placing our days and lives in proper perspective.
However, becoming lost in time, studying Torah in constant and endless search for G-d with no sense of day, night or hour: this enters the realm of the extraordinary. Only the true Torah scholar transcends the limitations of time and physical existence. And only the true Torah scholar masters this first of the 48 Ways.
(2) Attentive listening: Listening -- the art of listening -- is one of the most basic prerequisites for accomplishment in Torah. One reason for this is because it was never the intention that people study Torah on their own. Students would rather receive instruction from a teacher and then review among themselves, typically in pairs. We will discuss G-d willing next week why this arrangement is so highly preferred for Torah study. However, this has been the manner Torah has been studied and passed on for countless generations. Until the end of the period of the Mishna (circa 200 C.E.), the Oral Law (the Mishna, Talmud, Midrash etc.) was preserved in oral form. One had to listen very closely to retain anything. Even in more modern times, to truly grasp and fathom the essence of our tradition, one must study from a live and dynamic Torah teacher -- one who himself embodies the vibrancy of Torah.
There is an additional significance to being a good listener. Listening is not an inborn talent -- and most of us are not very good at it. We listen to others with half an ear while being preoccupied with our own problems and affairs. We usually have to force ourselves out of our own little worlds to open up to what others are saying to us -- to recognize that someone else's "world" is as important as our own. Our relationships suffer, but it is not very often that we overcome our natural self-centeredness to give others the attention they deserve.
It is virtually impossible to accomplish in Torah study with such a shortcoming. The reason is simple: The most important prerequisite for growing in Torah -- and we're talking about *growing* in Torah -- is the ability to come out of your own little world. If the Torah speaks truth, then it should make a difference to you. The true listener will not just shrug it off: "Makes sense, but I'm too busy to worry about it now." He will think about ramifications and consequences. He will be ready to integrate new ideas and lessons into his life and change himself as a result. And he'll also be able to appreciate the unique perspectives other human beings have on the Torah. This is the true meaning of listening. Torah study alone makes very little difference to an individual if it offers no more than intellectual stimulation. Only one who is ready to "hear" -- to emerge from his own little world and both seek out and respond to truth -- may begin the path of the 48 Ways.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.