Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #7, “Fear”
In the room in which Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) taught Talmud for years, there were structural pillars. Sometimes, a student would arrange his desk behind one of them so he could not be seen by Rabbi Soloveitchik.
If he were unseen, he could not be called upon. He hid because he feared the master, who could be ferocious with students who were not prepared, or did not understand.
Fear — along with a great sense of intellectual accomplishment and spiritual elevation — permeated his classroom.
Torah is not to be taken lightly. It is not like a sport, nor a political convention at which every opinion may be aired with abandon. Torah, the word of G-d, must be respected. Not the simple respect due an acquaintance, a check-out counter employee or anyone else. But a more profound respect that comes from trying to delve into the messages from the Creator of the Universe.
Not for nothing does Psalms speak of “rejoicing with fear.” Not for nothing did students of Rabbi Soloveitchik regard him as living on a different plane. Playing on the East European folk degredation of the melamed, the ne-er-do-well teacher of children, Rabbi Soloveitchik satirically called himself a melamed. He said: “Judaism is the only religion that conceives of G-d as a teacher.”
Teaching Torah is akin to imitating G-d. If G-d is to be both loved and feared, so must teachers of Torah.
Which is why Rabbi Solo-veitchik, a demanding teacher and brilliant expositor, someone whose connection to Torah was on a different plane, could be feared.
The seventh way to acquire the Torah: Fear.
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