Saturday, December 28, 2013

One who studies in order to do

"Rabbi Yishmael bar (son of) Rabbi Yossi said: One who studies Torah in order to teach is granted the ability to study and to teach. One who studies in order to do is granted the ability to study, to teach, to observe, and to do."

The answer I would like to suggest is that doing does not mean simply observing the commandments. It is not a dedication of the hands. That minimum is certainly required of us all. Rather, it implies studying in order to change oneself. It means being open to the Torah and its teachings and being ready to be moved and inspired by them. The Torah -- even areas with little practical relevance -- has an effect on a person who is ready to integrate its teachings. The highest goal in studying is not only to observe the commandments. It is to become different: a more sanctified and inspired human being.
This is the reason why the Talmud plays such a great role in Jewish life and in the study halls of the yeshivas (rabbinical colleges). The Talmud is filled with the lively discussions and debates of the Sages. It contains the intellectual investment which went into the development of the Oral Law, together with the accompanying energy and vitality.

When we study the Talmud, we not only study facts and conclusions. We relive -- and become a part of -- our heritage. We take part in the very discussions which animated the lives of the scholars of old. We begin to think in the manner our Sages thought. Developing, fathoming, formulating the concepts of the Talmud, experiencing the passion and intensity of the debates -- as well as becoming acquainted with the scholars who collaborated in its writing: this is what changes us as individuals. The Torah is not an "ology" -- a area of organized, scientific study. It is life. It is a way of thinking and of viewing the world. The true student of the Talmud is one who wants the Torah to become a part of him, who wants to become a true Torah personality.

A Chassid once came to his Rebbe, proudly proclaiming that he had gone through the entire Talmud six times. The Rebbe wisely countered: "You've gone through the Talmud, but has the Talmud gone through you?"

This form of Torah study is far superior to learning to teach. Teaching requires a very real clarity in Torah concepts and definitions. The true teacher is one who has a more profound understanding of the Torah than one who studies for his own edification. He must master the Torah's concepts and be able to articulate them, to explain and expound them to others. And this is no small feat. In the Talmud, R. Chanina remarked, "I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students" (Ta'anis 7a). Teaching forces a person to ask himself (or be asked) basic questions of definition and to clarify and hammer out concepts and principles. Our mishna states that one who sincerely, devotedly, and realistically sets his goals thus high will be blessed with this talent.

(All of this is a rather far cry from the old saying, "Those who can't, teach." That may have been the case for many of the teachers we all suffered through once upon a time. But a much higher ideal is asked of the true Torah teacher -- or of any teacher for that matter.) 
One who studies to do, however, wants more than to understand clearly. He wants to incorporate and make the Torah's lessons a part of his life. He wants the Torah to enter his psyche and change his heart.

And to such a person our mishna offers an insight: Not only will he experience personal revelation himself, but he will become the capable teacher as well. If a person assimilates the Torah's teachings and lives them, if they becomes truth and reality to him, he will be able to impart them to others when the time comes. Teaching is not only a matter of sharpening our communication skills or employing engaging teaching techniques. When we speak sincerely -- because it is life to us -- people will recognize this and appreciate it. An old Jewish saying goes, "Words which come from the heart enter the heart." I have personally been most moved by educators who were honest and unassuming, but whose words were sincere and heartfelt. A polished vocabulary, sense of humor, eye contact etc. are all valuable tactics, but in the final analysis, Torah and truth can only be transmitted by the person of truth.
R. Yochanan Bechhofer
(The definition of studying to do was pointed out to me by .)