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48 Ways to Acquire the Torah: Way #42

Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #42, “Asking and Answering.”

Ask others, ask yourself; either way, ask. Do not shy away from questions.

The Torah is not always clear. The purpose of the Torah is not to create automatons, people who just spit back what the Torah seems to say, or who pretend to.  When a student of Torah perceives mysteries, difficulties or apparent inconsistences in the Torah, the student must ask questions. That is how one acquires the Torah.

Answer others, answer yourself; either way, answer. If a student of Torah cannot grasp a point, the easy way out is to shunt the issue aside or shout the student down. Answers may take a few minutes or a few years. The great sage Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) was fond of saying, “One doesn’t die from a good question,” if one keeps searching for the answer.

The Torah commentary of the Vilna Gaon is famous for its extreme brevity. Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1891-1962), himself a prodigous scholar, once commented that it took him five years to figure out a certain comment of the Vilna Gaon. All that time, he was determined to come up with an answer.

Asking and answering also generate a social dimension in the acquisition of the Torah. A student partner in Torah often becomes a friend for life.

The 42nd way to acquire the Torah: Asking and Answering.

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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