02 February 2008

בראתי יצר הרע בראתי לו תורת טבלין כי המאור שבה מחזירו למוטב

I created the evil inclination and I created the Torah as an antitode
because the light therein returns one to goodness.

You know - I can see it.

I recently read "The Gate behind the Wall" by Professor Samuel Heilman. In it he describes his journey to enter the world of Talmud study. It makes for an interesting and yes, inspiring, read.

Towards the end of the book, he relates the following discourse in a shiur, lecture, he attended.

Rabbi Yochan said "anyone who grasps the Torah without it's mantle will be buried without his mantle".

The class asked, "does this mean to say that he'll be buried naked without a shroud"?

"No" replied the lecturer, " that is to say he'll be buried without the adornment of the Mitsvah of proper handling of the Torah Scroll."

And the Rav elaborates. "When God gave the Torah it was not simply the the Scriptures but also the Oral Torah. And it is the Oral Torah that is the Mantle of the written Torah.

When God gave the Torah he held the mountain over their heads as a threat. "

אמר רב אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא מלמד שכפה הקדוש ברוך הוא עליהם את ההר כגיגית ואמר להם אם אתם מקבלים התורה מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם. ....

"If you don't accept the Torah then "there" will be your burial place."

But how could that be? The Jews willingly accepted the Torah!

So Heilman comes up with his own Phsat. That Tosfos explains that one who does not learn the Oral Tradition will be buried by the weight of Scriptures.

"If we study only the words of the written Torah, if we do not surround it with the mantle of the Oral Tradition, if we do not study the Gemara, then we'll be buried there."

"But where is there"?

And the Rav elaborates once more.

"There is among the nations of the world from whom you'll be no different. Because if you study the Torah without it's mantle, without the Talmud, you will be like them. The Talmud, is the soul of the Jewish people."

A little imprecise, but not a bad vort.

I can empathize with Professor Heilman as he feels he attained something divine.

For better or worse, I am in an OJ life and learning is a part of it. My wife can't understand why I still go to learn on a regular basis. And I tell her it's for the comraderie. But I add that it's also for the learning itself.

On some skeptic blog I read that studying the Talmud inculcates us with faulty thought processes. I say that's highly debatable. For the most part, religious people do not carry over their subservience and do not suspend critical thinking, outside of proscribed study and action. I'll admit that religion can cause some faulty judgement, but that's not Talmud Study that does that. I don't see talmudists making bad investment decisions more than non-talmudists. I don't see learned doctors and attorneys any less competent than their non-learned counterparts. I don't see people making investment decisions based on a Gezaira Shava. Bad life decisions are made due to religious beliefs. Not due to Talmud study.

So back to my point. I can honestly see how someone who *strays but still engages in learning can eventually return to see the light. There is something magical in Talmud study.

So what exactly am I saying here? Am I doing an about face in my beliefs?

Sorry, Ed. Not at all.

So what do I mean when I describe learning as divine?

I was listening to an incredibly gorgeous piece of music. It occurred to me the music was a relatively simple melody, layered with a rich trio of fabulous singers. The usual English lyrics were sung in a romance language accompanied by a full orchestral arrangement. The end result was literally an aural Hargasha.

It was every bit as divine a good sevara or good vort.

You never see anyone get excited about a Passuk in the Torah. When done well, it's the complexity that's built on the passuk, the quartet of explanation that's erected over the Mishna, that fires the spirit. Just like the complexity of a musical masterpiece.

Divine is a state of mind that can be attained through human achievement. Whether it's that sudden grasp of understanding that comes when reading about the Principle of Equivalence, or an appreciation of great music. Sometimes, I am more in awe of the process of scientific discovery than the science itself.

And yes, a good old Tosfos can also be divine.

* Disclaimer! See here for an explanation of what it means to stray. It does not include heretical beliefs.

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