Monday, December 21, 2015

A Life of Torah Study (Achieving Elevation Part 1) [Rav Aryeh Leibowitz]


We have discussed man’s elevated position in creation, and his unique mind that empowers him to acquire knowledge.  We have also explored man’s free will, and his obligation to make decisions in life that will propel him to live the knowledge he has learned.  More specifically, we have identified Torah as the ultimate source of wisdom, and a Torah life as the prime manifestation of that wisdom. Lastly, we discussed man’s inner struggle with his own lower forces that draw him away from this obligation to study Torah and live a Torah life and distance him from his elevated position in creation.  We noted at that time that while man’s free will provides man the unique opportunity to choose to live a Torah life, it also creates the possibility of failure.  In the next few posts we will discuss methods that can assist a person to assume a truly elevated existence.  We will explore ways to train oneself to study Torah and live a Torah lifestyle, and how to overcome the forces within that draw a person away from their divine obligation. 

We have already identified the Torah as the most valuable field of study for acquiring wisdom.  But how is one to undertake studying Torah?  What should be one’s engagement with Torah?  How does one truly study Torah? 

Regular Study
On the most basic level, man must dedicate himself, his whole self, to regular study of Torah.  Torah study must be engaged in with a seriousness and respect that reflects Torah’s importance.  This has ramifications for the way in which one studies,[1] and also demands that significant time and effort be invested to sit and study Torah seriously.[2]

Why is regular study so crucial?  The more a person studies Torah and is dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom, the more he becomes a man of the mind.  This is especially true by people who dedicate large amounts of their time to Torah study.  Such people are developing themselves to be people of the mind.  Always in thought, always considering the material they are studying, serious Torah learners are mindful people.  They gain a perspective on the world through the lens of Torah, for what they study provides a context in which to see the world around them.  Their unique human ability to think deeply and abstractly is practiced often and this transforms them into deep people that operate on a plane that transcends the merely practical aspects of life.   

A person of the mind will more readily make decisions in life that are informed and guided by his intellect, and not by his passions.  This in turn will allow him to live a life that reflects the knowledge he has learned.  He will easier implement and internalize what he has learned and identified as truth if he is a person that is dedicated to the mind.

The Rambam writes that regular study also distances a person from vices.  In describing methods to avoid immorality the Rambam writes that the best advice is to study Torah:
Chazal taught that a person should direct himself and his thoughts to Torah and fill his mind with wisdom, for a person is only overcome with elicit thoughts when his mind is free from wisdom.” (Hilchos Iysurei Biah 22:21)

Making Torah Primary
One’s dedication to Torah study need not be measured only by time or material covered.  Although there is a certain basic amount of time that must be dedicated to Torah study in order to see accomplishment, the primary dedication to Torah that is required of man is in terms of his perspective on Torah.

In Pirkei Avos we are told that a person must make his “Torah study primary, and his worldly occuptions secondary.”  In our day, it is not easy for a person to limit work time.  Indeed, the Rambam’s description of one who works for three hours a day is no longer feasible for most people (Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:12).  However, even if one has limited time for Torah study, it must be the highlight and goal of their day.

To truly succeed in the study of Torah, it cannot be viewed as a pastime or hobby.  Every day in Maariv we proclaim, “For [the words of Torah] are our life (כי הם חיינו).”  This means that we view Torah and its study as our primary purpose and that which provides our life with meaning.  To succeed in Torah one must view Torah study and Torah growth as one’s primary focus in life and that which he desires to be involved with whenever the opportunity arises.

This attitude is reflected in the blessing we make on Torah study.  We do not recite as our goal, “to learn Torah (ללמוד תורה),” but rather, “to be engaged with the words of Torah (לעסוק בדברי תורה).”  This reflects our occupation with Torah study.  The one who is engaged with Torah study, does not merely study Torah from time to time, but he lives Torah in the sense that it is what occupies his mind and what he thinks about, as the verse states “Oh, how I love Your Torah.  All day it is [the subject of] my discussions (מה אהבתי תורתך כל היום היא שיחתי).” 

The primacy of Torah for an individual seeking to climb the ladder of elevation and the absolute dedication to Torah that is manifest as a constant awareness of Torah, was beautifully described by R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik in explaining why a new blessing is not recited every time one sits to study Torah, but is recited once at the beginning of the day,
When a mother plays with her child there is an acute awareness of the child. But even when the mother works at a job or is distracted by some other activity, there is a natural, latent awareness of her child's existence. This latent awareness remains throughout her entire lifetime and can never be extinguished. It is expressed in commitment, devotion, and in a feeling of identification, a feeling that I and the baby are one. The infant is the center of gravity of the parent's lives. They feel they cannot live without their child.
The same is true with regards to Torah. There may not be an acute awareness of Torah for twenty-four hours each day. But the latent awareness never ceases… This is the reason we say la’asok b'divrei TorahLa’asok implies that even when we are mentally involved with something else we are aware of Torah. This awareness of Torah should become part of one's I-awareness. Just as I am always aware of my existence without having to walk around saying ‘I exist, I exist,’ so should I be aware of Torah. (Shiurei Harav: A Conspectus of the Public Lectures of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik)

[1] Chazal (Berachos 22a) even demand that one’s personal study be similar to the Sinai experience, and that “Just as [at Sinai there] was fear, trembling, and shivering, so too (Torah study] must be done with fear, trembling, and shivering.”
[2] One of the verbs used to describe Torah study in the Torah is “שנן – which the commentators explain to mean “sharp” or “fresh.”  The Torah states (Devarim 6:7), “And you shall teach (ושיננתם) your children,” and Chazal (Kiddushin 30a) teach from the usage of the word “ושיננתם” that this means: The words of Torah should be so crystal clear and fresh in a person’s mind that he can respond to any question without delay.  This is accomplished through serious study and constant review, as Rashi comments on this teachings of Chazal and says about the words of Torah, “Review them and explore their depths.”

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