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48 Ways to Acquire the Torah: Way #11

Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #11, “Interaction with colleagues”

It is usually not possible to finalize an idea by oneself. Certainly this is so in the acquisition of Torah. Every idea needs to be run past someone else. Every manuscript needs to be seen by another set of eyes. Solitude does not spell success.

In my study of Torah, I have often stumbled in trying to establish a chavrutah, a study partnership. Either I knew more than my colleague or he knew more than I; or he preferred to cover a lot of ground and I needed to move more slowly; or he wanted to study one thing and I wanted to study another.

But when I focused on the laws of mikveh, I was blessed. For the first time in my life I really understood what Pirkei Avot is saying here: You need to interact with colleagues to really get the true meaning of the Torah.

When my study partner and I studied mikveh, he challenged me and I challenged him; he enlightened me and I enlightened him. He pulled me up short, and made me rethink; I did the same with him. It was exciting. Scintillating. Exhausting.

The back-and-forth yielded a level of knowledge I could not imagine otherwise.

Interaction with colleagues is very different from studying under a great teacher. With a study partner, the mutual challenge is far more robust and frequent. The capacity to generate new insights from within is pushed to its limit.

Yes, solitude is necessary to work through the cobwebs of one’s mind as it studies Torah — necessary, but not sufficient. The opposite of solitude — interaction with colleagues — is indispensable.

The 11th way to acquire the Torah: Interaction with colleagues.

Way #1, Study; Way #2, Listen; Way #3, Articulate Speech; Way #4, Understanding of the Heart; Way #5, An Intelligent Heart; Way #6, Awe; Way #7, Fear; Way #8, Humility; Way #9, Joy; Way #9a, Purity; Way #10, Serving the Sages

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Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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