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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5775

Ein Ayah: The Order of the Study of Torah Disciplines

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 1:55)

Gemara: There was a case of a certain student who studied much [Mishna], read much (mikra = Tanach]), and spent much time in shimush talmidei chachamim (“serving” Torah scholars), yet he died at half of life expectancy. 


Ein Ayah: The normal order of advancing in Torah study when one starts as a young child is Tanach, followed by Mishna, followed by Talmud, which is, in effect, shimush talmidei chachamim.

There are three areas in which one has to build himself through Torah study: 1) emotions of the heart, which listens and gravitates towards goodness, sanctity, and fear of Hashem; 2) practical knowledge, which enables bringing the good emotions to fruition by leading a Torah lifestyle; 3) development of the intellect in analysis of deep ideas, whether they be in practical matters that require analysis or in abstract philosophical matters.

If a young child does not start with mikra, there is no point to learn Mishna. He is unable to understand the practical system of living life according to the rules, for he is unaware of life’s details and complications, which require one to learn what to do in a disciplined manner. Only when one encounters “darkness” does he feel the need for the light of Hashem to guide him. A child, who is still naïve, cannot contemplate life’s complexity, as his enthusiastic worldview makes everything look like a well-lit plain full of truths. He is unprepared, before his intellect is more developed, to deal with many detailed rules that govern daily life.

A child is more prepared for emotions of sanctity, whose light his pure heart can absorb. That is why Tanach is most appropriate for him in the first stage. This awakens good emotions, such as a feeling of closeness to Hashem and a sense of His mercy, providence, and the love and concern for His creations, especially Israel, the nation closest to Him. The ethics taught by the prophets and the praises of Hashem that are found in Tanach awaken the natural holy emotions within man and lead him on a straight and holy path.

Later on, when the maturing person becomes more involved in life’s intricacies, he needs to be guided by specific rules, found in the study of Mishna. Finally, armed with a basis of both emotions and knowledge of what actions he needs to take, he is prepared to develop an analytical intellect.

If one embarks upon the study of Torah as an adult who already feels the “yoke of life,” it behooves him to begin with practical matters before he tries to enhance the splendor of a proper emotional approach. At this point, challenges of life may make it difficult to achieve the feelings espoused by the Torah and the Prophets. Therefore, a later learner should switch the natural order of a child and begin with Mishna before mikra. That is why the gemara stressed that the student did a lot of Mishna, and then a lot of mikra, and then a lot of shimush talmidei chachamim.

Shimush talmidei chachamim is a well-known name for the analytical elements of Torah study. This teaches us that included in these high-level studies are matters that cannot be transmitted by word of mouth, for they are beyond language. This applies to areas that touch on the highest levels of contemplating godliness and also to matters of ethics that emanate from the depths of the soul. In these cases, when one spends time observing talmidei chachamim, seeing physical actions conveys the sense of how their hearts work. This enables him to understand the analytical part that cannot be expressed through words of the mouth or the pen. Rather, it is engraved on the understanding heart of the wise and enables the perceiver to “cling to Hashem” by clinging to talmidei chachamim (see Devarim 30:20 and Sifrei to Devarim 11:22). In these cases, words are limited, and the essence of the holy lifestyle is found in the life of the scholars. The means of arriving at that deep understanding is by spending time with them.

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