Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #14, “Scripture”
Rabbi Avraham Yaffen (1886-1970) would wrly say: “A person wants to learn the whole Torah in one night, and he wants to sleep that night as well.”
Short-cut is always a temptation. The way this expesses itself in Torah study is to skip the basics once one has mastered them. The temptation is not to review. The professor of medicine does not want to go back to medical school. Yet, continuing education is a sina qua non. In the acquisition of Torah, it is not only new knowledge that must be acquired, the old knowledge must be regularly returned to.
Scripture: the text of the Hebrew Bible. True enough, for a beginner, this looms like a mountain. That is good, because Scripture must always be returned to, even after one has studied it and reviewed it many times. It is the foundation.
There is a somewhat humorous but ultimately sad commentary on the curriculum in many pre-WW II yeshivot. Their students were said to know only those verses in the Bible that are quoted in the Talmud. As if much of the Talmud had any basis other than the Hebrew Bible; as if the written Word delivered at Mount Sinai were not worthy of study instrinsically.
The sages codified review: Take each of the 54 portions of the Pentateuch, review it twice a week, then once with in its Aramaic translation. No scholar of Torah ever knows too much to skip this.
Still more: The Torah is law, but more than law. It is narrative. It is Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; it is Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel and Leah. It is role models, human struggles, ethics. It is inspiration; also, questions. It is Scripture. Without it, there is no Jewish life, no acquisition of the rest of the Torah.
The 14th way to acquire the Torah: Scripture.
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; Way #11, Interaction with colleagues; Way #12, Exchanges with students; Way #13, Deliberation
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