Torah is greater than priesthood and kingship, for kingship is acquired with 30 qualities, priesthood is acquired with 24, whereas the Torah is acquired with 48 ways. These are: … (3) articulate expression, (4) understanding and perception of the heart…
(3) Articulate expression (lit., “arrangement of the lips”): We mentioned last week that Torah study is typically done verbally, in live classes and with animated discussion. People who pay a first-time visit to a yeshiva beis midrash (study hall), perhaps expecting a library-type setting, are often shocked to encounter a roaring sea of fierce arguments and debates. Jews argue a lot, to be sure (“Two Jews, three opinions” as we like to say), but somehow the Torah seems most effectively understood in the noisy and often contentious environment of the study hall. The Talmud likewise condemns those who study alone in solitary silence: “A sword upon the scholars who sit alone and study Torah” (Brachos 63b).
The reason for this is not so different for the reason behind “attentive listening” of last week. We explained last week that to grow in Torah, one must be a good listener. This does not just mean paying attention to what others are saying — difficult as that is. It means being receptive to new ideas and concepts. A good listener will listen — openly and objectively — to new ideas, and if they make sense, he will respond and integrate them into his life. One who is growing in Torah — not merely studying it on some detached intellectual plane — will not only intellectualize the Torah but will hear its messages and follow its calling.
Likewise, to fully integrate a new idea, one must find the words and language to express it himself. If an idea makes sense to a person, he must articulate it himself — or even better, explain it to someone else. By verbalizing, one clarifies a concept to him and begins to relate to it in more tangible fashion. Verbalization concretizes a concept, taking it from the level of the hazy intellectual into a true and down-to-earth guide for life.
(It often happens in Torah study that we approach someone with a question, and then in trying to explain the question we come up with the answer ourselves. We then go off thanking the rather clueless person for all his help…)
In addition, studying orally is an invaluable memory aid, allowing the Torah to be internalized via our ears as well — in the process generating more of the “attentive listening” of Way 2.
(4) Understanding and perception of the heart: This quality appears as two separate qualities in our mishna. However, the Midrash Shmuel (authored by Rav Shmuel de Uzeda, of 16th Century Safed, Israel) combines them as a single quality because of their close resemblance. (Our mishna actually appears to contain 51 ways; the commentators suggest various means of trimming the list.) Likewise, the Vilna Gaon (of 18th Century Lithuania) emends our mishna by deleting the second quality.
The Sages relate this dual quality of understanding and perception to the heart. In general, the Sages view the heart as the seat of understanding. We may intellectualize information in our brains, but we only become true, believing — and knowledgeable — Jews through our hearts.
We explained once in the past that dry knowledge alone does not change a person — and certainly does not make him a better, more ethical human being. To quote the insight of R. Elchanan Wasserman (great Lithuanian Torah scholar who perished in the Holocaust), the Sages do not view the root of philosophical rebellion against G-d as stemming from the brain. It stems from the heart. (“Do not stray after your heart” (Numbers 15:39) — this refers to heresy (Talmud Brachos 12b).) When we want to believe certain things, the arguments quickly fall into place. If someone does not want to feel indebted to the Jews, he will “believe” the Holocaust was a fabrication. If someone wants to believe his sports star is a hero, all the DNA samples in the world will not change things (a somewhat dated example, but gets the idea across). If someone does not want to believe there is a G-d who created man (and who possibly did so for a reason), he will believe in evolution. (And I’m not talking about a controlled evolution, directed by G-d, but evolution resulting from random and haphazard chance — i.e., evolution as a blind, senseless religious belief.) And lastly, if someone does not want to believe in morality and tradition, he will “believe” the Revelation at Mount Sinai (witnessed by millions of Jews and passed on faithfully to their descendants) was the result of the warped sense of humor of a special-effects-producing alien race.
Thus, one who studies Torah must take it to heart as well to head. One might even suggest that knowledge without the emotional resources to assimilate it is more harmful than beneficial. Recall that we are descended from a nation which danced around a golden calf (or at least allowed a few of their weaker members to do so) a mere 40 days after witnessing the Revelation at Sinai. As we’ve discussed in the past, the reason in brief is that the nation was “forced” to know G-d in a much more vivid and intimate manner than they were prepared for. They were not ready to handle living with nothing other than the existence of G-d. They therefore grasped for the physical intermediation of idolatry in futile attempt to somehow distance themselves from a G-d they knew they could not deny.
“Perception of the heart,” the second half of this quality, implies something beyond “understanding of the heart.” (We Jews have a lot of words for study and knowledge — just as Eskimos have umpteen words for snow.) The previous quality, “binah”, is typically translated as understanding. The commentators describe it as understanding the material one has learned as well as seeing inferences and implications. (See Talmud Chagigah 14a — “One who understands one thing from another.”)
“Perception”, stemming from the word “saichel”, implies a deeper level of understanding. The Malbim (R. Meir Leibush of 19th Century Eastern Europe), in his commentary to the Scriptures, explains saichel as the ability to fathom principles and concepts which cannot be mastered through observation or factual knowledge alone (commentary to Mishle 12:8). It requires the ability to think creatively — outside of the box — and to comprehend that beyond the ordinary experiences of man. The Tiferes Yisrael (R. Yisrael Lipschutz of 19th Century Germany) likewise relates saichel to “seeing” (as in Hebrew “histakail” is to stare or look intently), and describes it as the ability to see distant ideas — and to grasp concepts beyond one’s immediate realm.
An illustration relates to some of our recent classes. When the Serpent tempted Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, she saw that the Tree was, among other things, “pleasing ‘l’haskil’ — to perceive” (Genesis 3:6). The commentators understand this to mean Eve felt it would be pleasing to be able to “perceive” as a result of eating the fruit of the Tree. She and Adam would have an intimate knowledge of good and evil. This was tempting: to fathom new ideas not formerly known to man. Even as the spiritual beings they then were, Adam and Eve craved knowledge and understanding: they wanted to sense life’s experiences, understand them, and overcome them (not unlike how people are often tempted to try out experiences, even patently deleterious ones, just one time).
This is a powerful human urge — to master with one’s mind, to conceptualize, to put to words, and to make sense of a universe which so overwhelms. As much as physical man wants to conquer and subdue his surroundings, spiritual man wants to make sense of them. And this is an ability which only the Torah, the guide for human living, truly offers.
Text Copyright © 2015 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.