Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #4, “Understanding of the Heart”
“Understanding of the heart” is intuition, to be distinguished from subjectivity and bias. To study Torah without putting aside one’s biases yields eisegesis, reading into the text — it is I who’s talking, not the text. The way to acquire the Torah is exegesis, reading out of the text, that is, it itself speaks. Intuition aids in exegesis.
The biblical Joseph egged on his brothers. Was this right? Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. Did this make sense? Jewish law requires tzedakah, the gift of a portion of one’s hard-earned money. Might this undermine one’s livelihood? The shofar is not sounded when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbos. Is this the right priority? One has an intuitive approach to these and countless other lenses the Torah places before us.
Intuition is to put aside one’s biases and to go deeper. It is to bring one’s essential humanity to the Torah. Intuition is necessary for the acquisition of the Torah because the Torah is addressed to human beings.
Intuition is not reflexive, not a first reaction. A point of Torah must be studied. The twists and turns of a Torah narrative, and the subtleties of a point of Jewish law, must be known before one’s intuition can come into play.
Intuition expresses Pirkei Avot’s faith in every student of the Torah.
The fourth way to acquire the Torah: Intuition.
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