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48 Ways to Acquire the Torah: Way #39

Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #39, “Setting Someone Straight via the Truth.”

“Walking on eggshells.” I can’t say what needs to be said.

But why does it need to be said? Because I am angry with someone? Because I know what’s best for someone? Because I see someone else’s flaws with perfect clarity? Because I know?

That is not the way to acquire the Torah. To set someone straight must derive from that person’s deviation from truth, not from my subjective reading of the person. The way to acquire the Torah is to apply its truth, that is, to help someone else see what the Torah says and to act accordingly.

To be successful at this, one must face and flee from one’s personal interests. I acquire the Torah, and help others acquire the Torah, only when it is the Torah’s truth that informs and motivates me.

A tall order!

Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883) said: “There are people who are learned, righteous, holy and pure, and at the same time atheists, wicked, thieving and murderous.”

To set someone straight via the truth of the Torah requires me to set myself straight first. The Hebrew in Pirkei Avot is a double entendre; it can read, “Setting oneself straight.” This requires self-knowledge.

I must summon, or at least approximate, objectivity in communicating what the Torah says; otherwise, I distort what I learn and teach. But if I can set someone else straight objectively, I can acquire the Torah. It takes a truthful person to know the Torah.

The 39th way to acquire the Torah: Setting Someone Straight via the Truth.

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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