Re: The Sacrifice of Isaac

Andy Kohlenberg (
Tue, 11 Mar 1997 22:34:39 +0200 (IST)

In Torah Forum #24 Yosey Goldstein responded to my postings and that of Marc
Abrams which forwarded the notions that:

a) "reading and working out the meaning of the narratives of the Torah,
Prophets and Writings without reference to the commentaries is most
definitely the first leg of "the PATH to real understanding" (my words)

b) "there is a spiritual impact to reading the text directly and wrestling
with it personally" (Marc's words):

Yossi wrote:
>Even when one comes up with a new explanation on a Posuk [verse] one
>MUST verify
>the pshat is true, running the Pshat past your Rov, or other knowledgeable
>Torah scholar! To come up with some explanation on a posuk that is not
>rooted in the Torah truth is not just a waste of time, but it may be
>dangerous. What happens if someone else takes the offered explanation and
>expands on it and based on that Pshat come up with some theory that could
>be totally contradictory to Torah thought, or it could even be heretical.

I accept that the approach I suggest might be dangerous if it is employed as
a means of training people to generate alternative lines of thinking to
those offered by Chazal.

I am not suggesting this, Heaven forbid. My belief is that the direct
encounter with the written Torah is an important FIRST STEP in reaching a
profound appreciation and love for the wisdom of authentic Torah Judaism.
Obviously, the learning atmosphere wherein the direct encounter takes place
must be one of faith in the Divinity of the written and Oral Torah and of
respect for the Sages. It must also be clear that the study of the written
Torah is only the first step and that immersion in the writings of the sages
of the Talmud and Rishonim [early authorities] will follow!

If you shun the words of the Sages and produce heretical ideas and offer them
as alternatives to authentic Torah viewpoints, then I would agree that it
would be worse that "just a waste of time" to continue to pursue Torah in
this manner.

Yosey then continued his response to my comments:

I wrote:
>> After one has read "mikra", scriptures, he should then
>>turn his attention to "mishna" the teachings of the Rabbis, including
>>their interpretations of scriptures (Pirkey Avot 5:21). The first step on
>>the path to Torah knowledge is a direct encounter with the scriptures.
>>This makes scriptures meaningful on a subjective level It also prepares
>>him to be able to understand the great wisdom of the Sages including
>>their brilliant commentary on scriptures. >>

Yosey responded:
Only Without learning the Mishna with the proper commentaries can
>one make such a comment - the Mishna never meant that one should read the
>words of the Chumash without the proper commentaries! If one were to
>look at the Mishna one would see that the Tanna says "At 5 years old one
>should learn Mikra" Now who would think that a child could/should read
>the scriptures and use his childish mind to explain the posukim, and that
>should be the basis to learning Mishna? Everyone understands that chumash
>needs a teacher, guidance and the proper understanding to teach a child
>Chumash. The basis of "mikra" MUST be a basis based on the Commentaries!

Yosey presents an interesting interpretation of the Mishna that I quoted. He
offers it as a s'vara (logically inferred knowledge) and brings no source to
back himself up. This is surprising as he introduces his comment with an
accusation that MY reading of the Mishna was uninformed by the commentaries!
He reasons that if the Mishna expects a five year old to learn scriptures,
then it obviously takes into account the intellectual limitations of the
student and would therefore require the teacher to provide the explanations.

My question is, What is the FOCUS of the young chid's study of scriptures
envisioned by the Mishna? Does it envision a detaied transmission of
commentaries to the pupil?

Maybe. However I think that another interpretation is also possible!

The Mishna, if we are to be precise, does not talk about learning Chumash
(Pentateuch) at age five. Its terminology is "Mikra", which I assume means
the entire TaNaCh. Consider the difficulty of teaching a child the entire 24
books of scriptures between the ages of 5 and 10. Making things even more
difficult is the opinion that this period includes the study of Alef Bet.
Consider as well the fact that reading scriptures was much more difficult
then because they didn't have such nicely punctuated books as we do today.

I think that the goal of teaching all of scriptures between age 5 and 10
would necessitate a heavy focus on technical reading and language skills and
simple explanations of the words and sentences. The answers to most
questions of interpretaion of the arrative would come later, at age 10, when
he begins the Mishna, and even more so at age 15 when he begins the Gmara.

In conclusion, I still maintain that it is possibe to undertand the Mishna I
quoted above to describe two distinct steps in the path to Torah wisdom.
First study Mikra, then Rabbinic teachings including analysis of Biblical

There still remains the question as to how to apply these guidlines,
originally intended for the curriculum of young chidren, to adults. My own
persona earning and teaching experiences have given me the feling that for
adults as well it is good to read a lot of Tanach before studying
commentaries in depth. Paying close attention to the entire weeky Torah
reading in shule and pondering its meaning a bit before looking at the
commentaries and/or asking a Rav for the interpretations is a good way to do

Yosey then continues his response to my comments:

I wrote:
>>Of course the Torah contains stories! Of course the Torah contains
>>historical narratives! Story telling in particular is one of the Torah's
>>most effective media for transmitting its brilliant teachings to its

Yosey responded:
>While it is true that the Torah contains stories the purpose of
>the Torah is NOT just to relate the story for the entertainment value.
>The Torah uses the vehicle of the story to relate some occurrence that
>will teach us something. To say the purpose of the Torah is to relate a
>story degrades G-D's purpose in writing the Torah.

Please reread my comments.I did not say that the Torah relates stories for
the entertainment value. The Torah relates stories in order to make an
impact on us, to bring us to understanding, to tears, to repentance, to
belief. Story telling is a very effective media for producing these
results.Yosey once incorporated a story in one of his postings to the Forum.
He did it not for the entertainment value. He did it to put an idea into the
hearts of his readers and not just into their minds. This is what the Torah
does when it includes stories. I do not feel that an appreciation for the
power of a story denigrates G-d's purpose in writing the Torah. On the
contrary, it magnifies it!

Andy Kohlenberg

Andy & Roochie Kohlenberg
Efrat, Israel