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Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Become a Talmid Chartscroll!


Taanis 7

Yankel considers himself a learned man.  He’ll always give you his opinion on matters of Halacha (Jewish law) and he confidently quotes the Talmud.  

I once asked Yankel to show me where in the Talmud his interesting idea was.  He eventually came back to me with his dubious source.   Not only did the Talmud say nothing of the sort, but I was flabbergasted as I listened to him break his teeth over a few basic words in Aramaic he read from his Artscroll Gemara!

King Solomon wrote in Proverbs, “Just as iron sharpens iron, so does man sharpen his friend.”  Rabbi Chama the son of Chanina explains: Just as one piece of iron sharpens another, similarly Torah scholars sharpen one another in Jewish law.

The prophet Jeremiah famously announced, “Are these words of Mine not like fire? Thus says G-d.”  Rabba the grandson of Chana explains: Just like a single piece of wood cannot ignite a flame, similarly words of Torah cannot be sustained by a lone individual.

The Torah was not designed to be a written document.  Certainly, much of the Torah is written, but most of it is oral teaching.  The reason for the Torah’s oral transmission is that one can only truly master the Torah when one verbalizes one’s learning with a friend.

The more you speak out your thoughts and listen to your friend’s responses, the sharper your understanding becomes.  There is nobody in the world who has become a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) by means of self-directed private study.  If you want to grasp the Torah, you need a Torah teacher, you need Torah peers, and ultimately, you need Torah students.

With the information explosion of our generation, it is very tempting to lock yourself in a room with an internet connection and an Artscroll subscription thinking that you can achieve Torah mastery that way.   It won’t work.  You may gather some information, but you won’t have learned Torah.  You might become a Talmid Chartscroll, but you'll never become a Talmid Chacham.

Torah takes comprehension.  Torah takes sharpening.  Torah takes fire.  Ever walked into a beis medrash (Torah study hall) and watched the yeshiva bachurim (boys)?  They’re alive – they’re on fire!  You can only achieve that when you are learning with others. 

Find a study partner – your Torah experience will be worlds apart from anything you’ve ever experienced!

NB  This is not, G-d forbid, an indictment of Artscroll.  I regularly seek guidance from their myriad seforim, including the Schottenstein Talmud.  But, as the front cover warns, it should only be used "as an aid to Talmud study," not the starting point!