Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #48, “Cite the source of your words.”
A person who names the source of what he says “brings redemption to the world,” says the Talmud. This is an essential lesson in honesty, but in the acquisition of the Torah it is also a necessity. If you mix up your authorities, you confuse your thinking. Especially to avoid mixing up different views on Torah that may seem to be the same, cite their authors.
If you name your professor of English as the author of “it’s deja vu all over again” on your graduate school application . . . well, something like a Yogi Berraism did happen to me once. It was a variation on this 48th and final way of acquiring the Torah: Say it in the name of the one who said it originally.
Decades ago, I was at a bris. The father gave his newborn son this blessing: “May you grow up to be the son of a Talmud scholar.”
Ten years passed.
Then, a knock on my front door.
It was the father from the bris, whom I had not seen since.
He was collecting funds for a worthy cause in Israel.
I reminded him of the blessing he had given his son. He had forgotten.
Years later, he knocked on the front door again.
He said: “I liked your little saying a lot. I’ve been repeating it in your name ever since.”
My acquaintance illustrated the importance of the 48th way to acquire the Torah — the lengths to which many will go to fulfill “say it in the name of the person who said it originally.”
This is what Queen Esther did when she spoke to Ahasuerus in the name of Mordechai (Esther 2:22). She thereby redeemed the Jews from the genocidal plan of Haman.
• • •
This brings to a close our exploration of the 48 ways to acquire the Torah, set down in Pirkei Avot 6:6. As I return to my weekly column (after a brief vacation), I thank the many people who have commented on and appreciated this year-long excursion into a beautiful Jewish tradition.
Elsewhere in Pirkei Avot it says that one is “obligated for his very life” if he interrupts his Torah study to appreciate the wonders of nature.
How could this be? Nature is G-d’s creation. Many struggle over this statement. The late Rabbi Nachman Bulman suggested, “Maybe, the meaning is this: The beauty of Torah surpasses even the beauty of nature.”
Be this as it may, there is a reason — many reasons, actually — why the Talmudic sages say that the study of Torah “is as weighty as all of the other mitzvahs combined” (Shabbat 127a). Many reasons: Torah’s beauty, holiness, perspective, history, language, calligraphy . . . Good luck in putting to practice the 48 ways of acquiring the holy Torah!
- 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
- Way #19, Limited Conversation
- Way #20, Limited Entertainment
- Way #21, Slowness to anger
- Way #22, A good heart
- Way #23, Faith in the sages
- Way #24, Acceptance of suffering
- Way #25, Knowing one’s place
- Way #26, Happiness with one’s lot
- Way #27, Have a filter
- Way #28, Claim no credit
- Way #29, Being beloved
- Way #30, Loving the Omnipresent
- Way #31, Loving G-d’s creatures
- Way #31b, Loving acts of charity
- Way #32, Loving reproof
- Way #33, Loving integrity
- Way #34, Shunning honors
- Way #35, Loving integrity
- Way #36, Taking no joy from issuing halachic rulings
- Way #37, Sharing another person’s burden
- Way #38, Judging others favorably
- Way #39, Setting someone straight via the truth
- Way #40, Guiding a person to peace
- Way #41, Being at peace in one’s Torah study
- Way #42, Asking and answering
- Way #43, Listening and adding
- Way #44, Studying In Order To Teach
- Way #45, Studying In Order to Act
- Way #46, Studying In Order to Act
- Way #47, Being Precise in One’s Study