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48 Ways to Acquire Torah: Way #2

Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.”  This week: Way #2, “Attentive Listening”

Every single Jew who has ever lived, and who ever will live, has the potential to uncover a layer of Torah — a meaning of a Jewish sacred word, verse or larger text — that no other person ever has, or ever will.

One of the keys to discovery: attentive listening.

Can a tenured professor resolve one of his scholarly questions by listening to a second-grader? There is a story, both delightful and profound, about Rabbi Joseph Karo (1488-1575), the author of the Code of Jewish Law and surely one of the towering masters of Torah in the last 500 years.

He was passing by a schoolyard where the kids were playing and tossing around questions raised in their class. Their words caught Rabbi Karo’s ear, since he always listened attentively to words of Torah. He heard one of the kids answer a question in Torah that he just could not figure out. He had struggled with it without success.

On the one hand, he was elated to have the answer. On the other hand, he left depressed. Here he was, a mature scholar, like a tenured professor, so to speak, and the elementary school kids figured out what he couldn’t!

Someone later observed that only because the great Rabbi Karo had struggled over his question for a long time that the “channels from above” were opened up, so to speak. Kids could access what the rabbi couldn’t because his efforts had brought down a level of Torah understanding previously closed.

Had Rabbi Karo not been attentively listening, neither the specific solution nor the lesson about the power of scholars to open up new channels to Torah would have been revealed.

The second way to acquire the Torah: Attentive Listening.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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