Thursday, September 24, 2020 -
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48 Ways to Acquire the Torah: Way #43

Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #43, “Listening and Adding.”

Asking and answering” was the 42nd way of acquiring the Torah. What is the difference between that and “listening and adding”? Either way, interaction with others is required.

By asking, I focus on something in the Torah that troubles me. When I listen, I focus on an idea troubling someone else. By listening, I expand my reach.

Ah, herein lies the beauty. By focusing on someone else’s idea, I discourse not only with living people. I discourse with the generations before me. I live in different places and times around the globe. I transcend the boundaries of my own life.

I live with those who died, since their ideas live. I focus on what troubled the greatest minds of the Jewish people, such as Rabbi Akiva and Rashi. What has become the standard layout of a page of the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud displays commentaries offered across centuries and cultures.

They compete for coherence in construing the text. I listen to them all.

Ah, still more. My ideas, too, must enter the cross-generational conversation. I should not just listen to others, be they my peers or history’s greatest students of Torah. I also must add. “Listening and adding.” I, too, contribute. If I refrain from doing so, I cannot acquire the Torah, either my own understanding thereof or that of the Torah’s greatest students.

The 43rd way to acquire the Torah: Listening and Adding.

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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