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Torah Attitude: Parashas Behar-Bechukosai: Understand and retain with "organized lips"
The third thing mentioned in the Mishnah, that one needs in order to acquire Torah, is literally translated as "organized lips". A person who studies just to know how to conduct oneself can be compared to someone managing an estate or a business. In general, it is much easier to become a master of what one has studied if one sits with a study partner in a Kollel setting or a similar study program. Although women are exempt from studying Torah for its own sake, they still have an opportunity to have their fair share in the learning taking place in the study halls of Torah. The Mishnah does not just say that one should express verbally what one is studying; rather, it must be organized and orderly. When one studies Torah one must have a sharp and precise understanding of what one has learned. It is important to be articulate, even when one studies on an individual level. The importance of studying with "organized lips" also applies when one reviews what one has studied. To acquire Torah by "organized lips" takes constant work and scrutiny.
The third thing mentioned in the Mishnah, that one needs in order to acquire Torah, is literally translated as "organized lips". This includes a number of techniques that help the one studying Torah to retain what he is learning. The first two things we previously discussed, "to study Torah" and "to listen with one's ears", could be fulfilled on an individual level by studying and listening to recorded lectures at home, or by attending classes. But the third requirement entails first of all to express verbally what one studies. This is very different than just reading a book with one's eyes. The Talmud (Eruvin 54a) teaches that it is important to verbally express what one studies in order to retain properly what one learns. This is the kind of study that will make the Torah become one with the person studying it.
Manager vs. owner
A few weeks ago, (Torah Attitude: Parashas Tazria/Metzora: Two kinds of Torah study, April 15, 2010), we discussed that there are two kinds of Torah study. One kind is in order to know how to conduct oneself in every aspect of one's life. The second kind is to study Torah as a purpose in its own right. Rabbi Eliahu Lopian explains that a person who studies Torah just to know how to conduct oneself can be compared to someone managing an estate or a business. This person may know every detail of what he is in charge of, but he is not the master as it does not belong to him. An outsider may not notice the difference between him and the real owner, but obviously there is a huge difference between the two of them. In order that one is not merely a manager of Torah knowledge, and to make sure that Torah becomes an acquisition, says Rabbi Lopian, it is imperative that one develops the 48 things mentioned in the Mishnah.
Kollel study program
A person who reads a book at home on a Torah subject may obtain the information, but he will not become a master of what he has studied, as he is missing many of the things mentioned in the Mishnah needed to acquire the Torah. In general, this is much easier to accomplish if one sits in a study hall with a study partner in a Kollel setting or a similar study program. In such a setting, one gains all three requirements that we have discussed so far. First of all, this person is studying the Torah in its own environment. Secondly, he will hear someone else's understanding by listening to his study partner, and if needed he has the opportunity to ask questions to people more learned than himself. Finally, he expresses his understanding verbally in his discussions with his study partner and others.
Women's share in Torah
The Talmud (Berachos 17a) explains that although women are exempt from studying Torah for its own sake, they still have an opportunity to have their fair share in the learning taking place in the study halls of Torah. They accomplish this when they get involved and ensure that their children study Torah in a Yeshiva, as well as encourage their husbands to go and learn in the halls of Torah. The Talmud teaches that women are actually more secure in their reward for their share than the men are themselves. This is very understandable when one thinks about the tremendous self-sacrifice for a woman to allow her husband, who was away at work all day, to leave the house again at night to go and study.
Organized and orderly
The Maharal explains that when a person verbally expresses what he is studying it clarifies the subject and helps him to understand it better. Rabbi Lopian elaborates on this and points out that the Mishnah does not just say that one should express verbally what one is studying. Rather, by the Mishnah's choice of words "organized lips" it emphasizes that the words must be well organized and orderly. This teaches us the importance of making sure to clarify every detail of what we learn in our mind. Only then can one be articulate when he verbalizes what he is studying. Rabbi Shmuel Rozowsky of the Ponevez Yeshiva, who I was privileged to study under, was famous for his clear Talmud lectures and precise definitions of even the most intricate subjects. He used to say that in order to be able to think in an orderly fashion, the Talmud student must train himself to be organized in all areas of his life.
Sharp and precise
In the first portion of Shema (Devarim 6:7), the Torah instructs us to teach Torah to our children. The Talmud (Yuma 19b) explains that this obligation is not restricted to one's biological children. One fulfills this obligation with any student one teaches. By expressing this commandment in the form of teaching our children, the Torah indicates that the one who teaches Torah shall deal with his students as if there were his own children. However, the Torah uses an unusual word to describe how to teach: "veshinantom". Rashi explains that in its literal meaning this word is an expression of sharpness. He quotes the Talmud (Kiddushin 30a) that teaches that when one studies Torah one must have a sharp and precise understanding of what one has learned. In this way, if someone asks him a question, one can be articulate and is able to give a clear and precise answer. Even if one has not been asked a question, the importance of being articulate is obvious when one learns with a partner and even more so when one teaches. There are many anecdotes about Torah scholars who would sometimes spend hours upon hours to elucidate a subject, and make sure to have the right words to teach it in a clear and precise fashion, right down to the minutest detail.
However, the Mishnah teaches us, by including "organized lips" as one of the things needed to acquire Torah, that it is important to be articulate, even when one studies on an individual level. First of all, in this way one will have a clear understanding of the subject and truly acquire it. Secondly, one will be able to repeat it to others when the need or opportunity arises, such as at the Shabbos table or at social events.
Rabbi Shmuel de Azeeda, in his commentary Midrash Shmuel, explains that the importance of studying with "organized lips" also applies when one reviews what one has studied. It is not sufficient that one reads the text once or twice. One must carefully review what one has learned many times till one has gained a thorough understanding of the subject and has organized the details in an orderly fashion. Just like when one sets a table for a meal there is a place for the main dish, a different place of the side dish, and every piece of cutlery has its right place where it belongs. In the same way, one must clarify what one has studied and clearly understand what is the main subject, and distinguish the side issues that have been discussed along with the main subject. The Rambam writes in the beginning of one of his famous letters, Iggeres Hashemad", that a person should not speak in public until he has reviewed what he wants to say four times. And if he plans to publish something, he ought to review it a thousand times, if only it would be possible.
Constant work and scrutiny
It is not easy to acquire Torah by "organized lips". It takes constant work and scrutiny, and there is always room for improvements. As the Festival of Shavuous is approaching, and we are entering the "time of the giving of the Torah", it is most appropriate for all of us to analyze where our personal Torah learning is holding. We must seek ways how we can improve our techniques to acquire Torah for ourselves and how to teach others. In this way, we too have a share in the eternal transmission of Torah from Sinai.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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