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Torah Studies
41--Parshat Va'et'chanan
August 19, 2005
© Rabbi Jack Moline

(Avot 6:6) There are 48 ways to acquire Torah, including... mityashev b'talmudo, patient deliberation in one's studies...

(Deuteronomy 6:7) V'shinantam l'vanekha v'dibarta bam b'shiv't'kha b'veitekha...; You shall teach them to your children and speak of them when you sit in your house...

This particular teaching, mityashev b'talmudo, is a phrase easily felt, but hard to translate. Perhaps mityashev conveys "concentration," as one edition suggests. Another suggests, "mature reflection." A third translates the phrase as "composing himself in study."

I choose "patient deliberation in one's studies." It may or may not be any more accurate than any other, but it resonates with Rashi's notion that it refers to the relationship between two claims.

Few people need to be reminded that patient deliberation in one's studies will yield results. In the world of Jewish learning, it is the time in chevruta – literally sitting in study – that is the locus of the deepest internalization of Torah lessons. The intimacy of intellect and discourse that develops between study partners makes learning not just an exercise, but also an acquisition.

There are some who would like to believe that wisdom is acquired in less time-consuming and labor-intensive ways. An inspirational lecture can provide a sudden insight, but still requires reflection and consideration. Contemporary charlatans suggest that one may acquire the substance of a text by sleeping with it under your pillow. Others suggest chemical approaches to learning; an Eastern teacher once dismissed the claim that drugs could make a person enlightened, saying, "Make a simpler drug – one that makes a man a doctor or a lawyer."

In modern Israel, this reflexive verb has political implications. (Then again, what doesn't have political implications in modern Israel?) Hityashvut means "settlement." Aside from geography, the essential meaning of creating a settlement is very helpful in understanding the term. An Israeli settlement is somewhere foundations are laid and roots are planted, quite literally. It is a place people come to live. They come to build and to be built. Settlement is not designed to be transient, but carries the intention of permanence.

The verse from the Torah portion is very familiar: v'shinantam l'vanekha v'dibarta bam b'shiv't'kha b'veitekha. We say it every time we recite Sh'ma, and for the observant Jew, that's a lot of times a week. With its emphasis on the study of Torah and its use of the same root as in mityashev, the connection is too inviting to overlook.

Here, too, is a problem in translation. The usual "when thou sittest in thy house" makes Torah education seem an almost casual thing – as if to say, if you are sitting around with nothing to do, teach a little Torah. But the implication of patient deliberation is that learning must be not only purposeful but also integrated. In the fertile soil of our children's souls we are laying foundations and planting roots, processes that take time and intention, just as our own studies demand. There is no inoculation that creates instant Torah. Like chevruta, that teaching demand intimate relationships.

When learning is a casual or incidental matter, its ability to penetrate is limited. It remains something external and often superficial. But when learning is approached with patient deliberation – and deliberateness – it becomes internalized Torah for teacher and student, parent and child, chevruta and chevruta alike.

What will help make you someone who is mityashev b'talmudo? Find yourself a study partner, choose a text and set aside time to read it together and discuss what it means to each of you and then to both of you. It doesn't matter to the process of learning if your partner is a child or an adult (though the nature of the learning obviously will be different). The more times you meet, the deeper your acquisition of Torah will be.

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