Judaism: Torah Study
HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook zts"lFirst Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, revered and famed Torah sage, philosopher, writer, poet, iconic and beloved leader of religious Zionism and the return to Zion (1865-1935).
Connecting to Torah Study
For Rav Kook, it was axiomatic that the Jewish soul and the Torah are a match made in heaven. In his book analyzing the essential nature and value of Torah study, Orot HaTorah, he categorically asserted that "The Torah is bound together with the spirit of Israel" (12:1). This is true not only for the Jewish people as a whole, but also for each individual:
"Just as Knesset Yisrael [the national soul of Israel] can only realize its full potential in the land of Israel , so, too, each individual Jew can only fulfill his spiritual potential through the Torah, which is the spiritual 'land' suitable to the special qualities of the Jewish soul. All other studies are like foreign lands with regard to the spiritual development of Israel." (12:7)
While this is nice in theory, in practice things are not so simple. Not everyone takes to Torah study like a fish to water. If Torah study is indeed so natural to the Jewish soul, why do Jewish educators need to work so hard?
Rav Kook was aware of this problem. There are a number of reasons why the words of Torah may not find a place in one's heart - some practical, some spiritual. In analyzing the reasons why a person may feel disconnected from Torah, Rav Kook noted several underlying causes.
To properly appreciate the value of Torah study, we must recognize the essential nature of the Torah. The Torah is a revelation of ratzon Hashem, God's Will in the world. It is only due to the limitations of our physical state that we are unable to recognize the Torah's true greatness.
Similarly, we need to have a proper appreciation for our Divine soul and its natural sense of morality. People occasionally err and stumble; but overall, we should have faith in our innate moral sensibilities. Thus there exists an inner correlation between the Torah's ethical teachings and the soul's inner qualities. The extent that one enjoys studying Torah is a function of refinement of character; the greater one's moral sensitivity, the more readily one will identify with the Torah and its teachings.
This fundamental insight is essential in order to properly appreciate Torah study. When Torah is studied in holiness, one may sense the greatness of the Torah and how it emanates from the very source of holiness.
Elevating the Details
A basic appreciation for Torah, however, is not enough. Even if one recognizes the Divine nature of the Torah, one may feel a sense of impatience when faced with its myriad laws and complex details. One may be attracted to lofty matters, and feel restricted and frustrated when studying the detailed minutiae of halakhah.
The remedy for these feelings of restriction is not to avoid halakhic studies but rather "to elevate the significance of each detail of practical studies to the richness of its spiritual source" (Orot HaTorah 9:8). A detail may acquire great significance when illuminated by a flash of insight or sudden inspiration. Success in 'elevating the details' requires spiritual refinement and perseverance in the contemplative pursuit of the boundless heights of holiness.
In fact, each word of Torah contains infinite light, a reflection of the Torah's absolute morality. One who has learned to perceive this light will gain insight into the inner spiritual content of each detail.
Find Your Portion in the Torah
An additional aspect that needs to be addressed is that not all areas of Torah appeal to all people equally. In general we should occupy ourselves with those pursuits that interest us. This is especially true regarding Torah study, as the Sages taught, "One only learns that which one's heart desires" (Avodah Zarah 19a).
Some have strayed from and even abandoned the Jewish people because they failed to follow their personal inclinations when choosing what area of Torah to study. They may have been predisposed to philosophical inquiry, but lacking appreciation for their own innate interests, they dedicated themselves to conventional Halakhic studies. Unsurprisingly, they felt an inner resistance to this course of study, since it was not compatible to their natural inclinations. Had they focused on learning more suitable topics, they would have realized that their inner opposition to halakhic studies was not due to some flaw in this important area of knowledge, but because their soul demanded a different field of Torah study.
Since they failed to understand the root cause of their inner conflict with Torah study, they attempted to suppress their natural tendencies. But as soon as an alternative path became available, they, unfortunately, rejected the Torah and the faith of Israel. Some of these individuals subsequently attempted to promote great ideals lacking practical foundations, and misled the world with false visions.
Others are naturally drawn to the sciences and secular studies. These individuals should follow their natural interests, while setting aside set times for Torah study. Then they will succeed in both areas. As the Sages counseled in Pirkei Avot 2:2, 'It is good to combine the study of Torah with worldly endeavors.'
(Silver from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Orot HaTorah, sections 2:1, 4:4, 4:5, 6:2, 7:1, 7:4, 9:1, 9:6, 9:8, 11:2, 12:1, 12:7. Sent to Arutz Sheva by Rabbi Chanan Morrison, Rav Kook on the Net: RavKookTorah.org)