Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #19, “Limited Conversation”
If you want me to speak publicly without notice, I can speak for two hours. If you give me a week to prepare, I can say the same thing in 10 minutes.
Gifted individuals have a way of making a few words penetrate. Some people command attention not by shouting and not by speaking interminably, but by concision. Nothing is left out, but, more noticeable, nothing extraneous is put in. One person babbles; the other person is gripping.
Limited conversation is a way to get to the essence, a way to enhance conversation.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, quoting Coleridge, pointed out: “The whole labour and building up knowledge is but one continued process of simplification.” The acquisition of Torah is the attempt to see it whole, to integrate all of its parts; in this sense it is a process of simplification. In conversing with fellow students of Torah, the discipline to think things through and express oneself simply aids in clarifying the Torah.
Two litigants present conflicting monetary claims to a Beth Din. Or a distraught spouse presents two equally balanced life-and-death medical options to a decisor of Jewish law. The more clear and succinct the decision, the more it reflects a student of Torah person who acquired it via limited, careful conversation.
The 19th way to acquire the Torah: Limited Conversation.
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 #9a, Joy; Way #9b, Purity; Way #10, Serving the Sages; Way #11, Interaction with colleagues; Way #12, Exchanges with students; Way #13, Deliberation; Way #14, Scripture; Way #15a, Mishnah; Way #15b, Limited Business Activity; Way #16a, Limited Marital Relations; Way #16b, Portion Control; Way #17, Limited Pleasure; Way #18, All nighters
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