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An Invitation To Engage


It is 1AM and I am too excited to sleep. I just finished teaching a Talmud class on the complex laws of interest and profit. I readily acknowledge that I may be a strange person, but not because I am excited about a complicated Talmudic discussion.

I have one goal when studying or teaching Talmud: Engagement. The Mishna and the Talmud were written in a manner that invites the reader to step into the Batei Midrash – study halls – in Israel and in Babylon of 1600 to 2,000 years ago and participate in the passionate debates that shaped the direction of the Mishna, Talmud, and Halacha.

We can study the text with the superb commentary of the Artscroll and learn how the text has been explained over the ages. I don’t know how many thousands of people are studying Talmud because it has been opened up for them by the Artscroll Talmud.

I have taught Talmud to groups of highly accomplished people using the Steinsaltz Talmud and they too were guided by Rabbi Steinsaltz into the complex conversations of the generations. I was only satisfied when the debate became heated and passionate.

The Talmud is not a study of information, but of process. It trains us in the application of Halachic principles to new situations and challenges. It is insufficient to study the thinking process of the Sages of the Talmud, the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim. We will only learn how to apply their thinking if we are engaged in the debates.

Talmud study is an intense training process in logical thought. When we are engaged in the conversation we learn to distill the concepts, not just the laws. That is why when we study a Responsum of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, for example, we will find him applying the concepts of laws that, at first glance, seem distant from the immediate topic. Rav Moshe didn’t think in a checklist of laws, he thought conceptually, and, in his mastery of Torah, which flowed through his veins, he could apply the ideas of diverse Halachot to a single topic. Rav Moshe is part of the same conversation that began in the Mishna.

Even we, who do not begin to approach Rav Moshe’s mind or knowledge, can join in the same debate. The Talmud invites us to participate in the discussion and not remain on the sidelines as observers.

That is why I am so excited at 1AM. We engaged in a furious battle of ideas. We argued with, questioned, challenged, and carefully listened to, the voices of the Mishna, Talmud, Rashi, the Pnei Yehoshua and the Maharam. We were there in the room with all of them. We were exhausted when the debate ended, but thrilled to have participated, and changed by the experience.

Even better: At the conclusion of the class, someone commented, “We should use the same approach when we study any Biblical scene. We have to picture ourselves as active participants in the story.”

And that, my friends, is exactly why the Talmud nurtures engagement. It invites us to become active participants in every aspect of Torah. There are few things, if any, that are more exciting.

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Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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