Thursday, November 09, 2006

Finding a Rav (Avot 1:6)

יהושע בן פרחיה ונתאי הארבלי קבלו מהם. יהושע בן פרחיה אומר עשה לך רב. וקנה לך חבר. והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות

Yehoshua ben P-rahya and Natai of Arbeil received it [the Torah] from them. Yehoshua ben P-rahya says, make for yourself a Rav. And acquire for yourself a colleague. And judge everyone towards the positive.

One thing that distinguishes Judaism from the other great monotheistic faiths, is its emphasis on learning. In the synagogue in which I was raised, we only seldom had the kind of discussions about God that were happening in the Churches around us. We talked about Torah. About what Torah meant to us. About what it instructed us about how to live our lives. About the ethics and values it instructed us to follow.

Today’s Mishnah includes one of the most famous sayings in Judaism about Torah study. It says that you should find a Rav, or Master, to teach you.

It then goes on to say you should also find a haver/חבר, which I have translated here as colleague. Many people choose instead to translate it as ‘friend’. Some also translate this statement as a continuation of the first, in effect saying it means, “If you find for yourself a teacher you will also find for yourself a friend.”

Surely, that way of translating the passage expresses a very beautiful sentiment. But I think it also can give us a false impression about why we should seek to have teachers of Torah in our lives. It makes it sound like we study Torah for our own personal gain -- that we study Torah so that we will have more and better friends.

But the truest reason to study Torah is for its own sake. We call this kind of Torah study, Torah lishma/תורה לשמה (Torah in its own name). What we ultimately mean by this is that we study Torah primarily as a means or worship. It is not about gaining things for us or even about gaining knowledge. It is for God. It is a way of building a relationship with God, of inviting God’s presence – God’s glory – into our lives.

May you experience a piece of God’s glory, today.

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