6 Things You Might Not Know About Torah

I’m not very good at being “yeshivish” or “modern”. Let me now attempt to argue a point to bridge these associations that I don’t particularly relate to.

You may have heard of this thing called “learning.” You probably know about this scary, oppressive-sounding entity called “Torah,” which is to be observed and “learned.” It could be that someone once forced you to do it, you may do it consistently and enthusiastically, or maybe you have no experience with it but inexplicably feel averse to it.

If you’ve ever performed this activity, you may have noticed that it is structured and absolutist. It contains a seemingly abstract, self-contained analytical system, to which is payed much attention in many institutions of “Torah learning.” Sometimes it seems anachronistic or fantastical. On top of all of this, it strives to dictate to you how to lead your life in every way. Here are some things you may not have known about studying the Teaching (such is my translation of the Yiddish-Hebrew “learning Torah”):

  1. Studying the Teaching is a broader form of meditation than anything you will find in Eastern religion. The Teaching is subject to every level of consciousness. No need to sit in a lotus position or close your eyes. You can do that, or prepare a salad, or work in a cubicle. You can passively allow thoughts to develop or actively analyze details intensively and logically. No crystals or herbal remedies required. Normal clothing, dieting, and social involvement will not hamper this transcendentalism. Focus more or focus less; function with the same subject material and methodology at whatever skill level you may be.

  2. The Teaching is an astronomically gargantuan web that includes within it everything ever. If you know where to look and take the time to think about it, you will find that studying each detail of the Teaching acts as a hyperlink to several other details, which in turn leads to a journey across disciplines and bookshelves, much like the addictive “Wikipedia AD(H)D.” Any and every piece of knowledge that has and will ever exist can be integrated into your study. New ever-expanding sub-networks will emerge and blossom before your eyes. Just do yourself a favor and take notes so the fractal maze of the Teaching (and all the running around you’ll be doing) doesn’t give you vertigo. At the end of the day, it all stems from the same existential-DNA-in-a-book.

  3. You’re already in love with the Teaching. Have an interest? Star Wars? Petting zoos? The dynastic history of Mongolia? Great! Every one of those serves as a portal to your interest in the Teaching. Most people (even seasoned studiers) complain sometimes that they don’t feel interested in studying. Well, if the first two factoids weren’t enough to pique your curiosity, try finding where your interests are hiding. You’re guaranteed to find them.

  4. The six dimensions of the Talmud are like paints for your life. If all the above seemed too abstract or lofty, good news: everything is practical! As a teacher of mine once said, “HaShem doesn’t tell us things that are useless.” More than a big web of interesting food for the psyche, the Teaching is also a walkthrough for building an ideal civilization. The 6 sections of the legal tradition — Agriculture/Food, Seasons/Holidays, Home/Family, Economy/Law, Divine Encounters, and Purity/Death — are all colors of the same light, shining through every prism of application.

  5. The Unique Language is rich with meaning. Understanding the Teaching most accurately requires knowledge of ancient Hebrew. Being able to define terms holistically lets you tap into the soul of the Teaching, no matter what part of it you’re studying. “Learning Hebrew? As if I need another challenge!” Shoot for the stars, man! If you can’t get past the fuzzy interpretation of translation, you’re probably not going to get the whole story.

  6. It has everything to do with pursuing the truth. Questions cannot be heretical; only answers can be false or partial. Ask away! (Just remember to be realistic about your degree of knowledge and historical circumstance, please!) Oh, and I should mention that every argument you are able and unable to come up with has already been addressed somewhere. In other words, the Creator’s got this whole “existence” thing covered. He is, after all, the Creator.

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