Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” For the next 48 weeks, I shall address each of these ways.
This week: Way #1, “Study.”
What a bonanza: a veritable explosion of books on Judaism in the vernacular. Yet, what a temptation, what a diversion.
My late teacher Rabbi Moshe Besdin (1913-1982) famously dictated his purpose over and over: it, not about it.
Study it, the Torah itself, he said, not books about the Torah.
Get the real thing: the original.
Become your own authority.
Rabbi Besdin pressed us to compile Hebrew vocabulary lists, to master the roots forms of Hebrew verbs, to piece together sentences of Jewish sacred texts (such as the Hebrew Bible) without skipping the hard words, the odd roots or the recalcitrant phrases. Skip nothing. Study it.
When you study “it,” he said, you are no longer dependent on other people for your views of Judaism. You should be able to develop your own understanding of Judaism, but you can’t really do it if everything you know is filtered through somebody else, be it somebody’s else book, somebody else’s sermon or somebody else’s lecture.
G-d wants to know what insights that I, and I alone, can bring to the Torah.
True enough, books about Jewish law and lore can build and deepen one’s knowledge, but only as a supplement to, not a substitute for, the study of Torah itself.
This is the first way to acquire the Torah: It, not about it.
Torah, not about Torah.
The first way to acquire the Torah: Study.
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