Deuteronomy 26:1 to 29:8
In concluding his Third Discourse to the Israelites, Moses tells them to hear and pay attention to his words. Rabbi Kook extends this command to a discussion of how to best study Torah.
In this week’s text, Moses is concluding his third discourse to the people before they enter the Promised Land.
In this discourse, Moses again addresses the people …. But, he prefaces his remarks with the Hebrew word, Haskeit: Gunther Plaut in The Torah – A Modern Commentary translates this to mean “Hear, [O Israel]…” (Deut. 27:9). Like many other translations of Torah; the English words chosen may slightly change the meanings depending on the person who translates. Richard Friedman, in his Commentary on the Torah, translates the words to: “Be silent and listen, Israel: …..” Rabbi Kook (1865-1935, In 1921 he established the position of Chief Rabbinate of pre-state Israel, becoming Chief Rabbi with Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yaakov Meir) translated the phrase as “Pay attention and listen, Israel…”
Rabbi Kook wrote further about the word Haskeit…..”One explanation proposed by the Talmud is that haskeit is a composite word, formed from the words hass (“be quiet” –“hush”) and kateit (“to shatter”). When studying Torah, we should first be quiet and accepting, even if we fail to fully understand the reasoning. Only afterward should we try to analyze and dissect what we have learned, raising whatever question we have”
“Hear, O Israel,” “Be silent and listen,” “Pay attention and listen,” … All three sound like a request to stop and carefully study what follows. In commenting on this week’s Torah text, Rabbi Kook presents two ideas on how to best study Torah…. These concepts also apply to any study in which a person may be involved.
The first concept “follows the advice of Rava, the fourth-century Talmudic scholar, who consoled: “One should first study [Torah] and only afterwards scrutinize.” (Talmud source – Shabbat 63b)”
To reach the most complete knowledge of a given subject, one should have as much information as possible. To obtain this, one should keep quiet and listen to any information presented. If a person wishes to interrupt and express an opinion, they are speaking without obtaining all the presented information. The information we don’t hear may change or modify what we think….. By interrupting, we do not get a total picture. In fact, we may obtain an incorrect view.
Appling this to Torah study, Rabbi Kook states: “We must first gain an overall understanding of the subject at hand and all relevant topics…. For this reason, the Sages advised that we train ourselves to listen carefully and acquire much knowledge before introducing our own opinions and view…. Initially, we need the quiet patience of hass (quietness) to uncritically absorb the subject matter and the methodology of study…. After we have gained a complete picture of the subject, then we may participate in the intellectual battles of milchamta shel Torah, “the battle of Torah.” Then we may kateit – (“shatter;” or, in this case, attack and critique) that which we feel is illogical or unreasonable…. Tragic errors often result from rash students who were too quick to challenge and tear down.”
Rabbi Kook’s second concept of study is stated in a Talmud quote: “Form groups (asu kittot) and study Torah; for Torah knowledge is only acquired through group study.” (Talmud source – Berachot 63b)
The Talmudic scholars went even further. They warned that by studying Torah alone, a student is in danger of acquiring three negative traits: intolerance, ignorance, and sin.
But, in reality, much of our study is done alone. So, one may ask: “Why is it so bad?”
This question can be answered by looking at the three positive benefits of study in groups… as pointed out by Rabbi Kook.
First, in group study many opinions are shared. This may correct misconceptions and help build a tolerance for ideas that may be different than from ours. Without modification of thought, this intolerance could become a major factor in disputes leading to verbal and even physical violence.
Rabbi Kook’s second reason for group study of Torah is that it helps the student to analyze matters of faith and fundamental Torah views. Often group discussions result in the discovery of important facts that may be hidden during a first reading.
A third reason for group Torah study, according to Rabbi Kook, is to obtain clarity of legal issues. Through solitary study, a student could obtain an erroneous interpretation of Torah and apply it to daily life. In addition, this solitude could lead to unnecessary stringencies, which are referred to as “sinful.” This is the case that is used to show why the life of the Nazarite is not desirable. Torah tells to “choose life”… to enjoy and relish the pleasures of daily life; not to withdraw and lead a quiet, lonely, solitary existence.
So…. A few words of Torah, “Hear, O Israel” – can lead to a discussion of successful study traits. Yes, group study definitely adds to our store of knowledge.