Sunday, November 29, 2015

Explaining the Different Aspects of Torah

There are important questions to ask about the many different aspects of the Torah, especially like: which should be prioritized?

Ideally, one would want to study all aspects of Torah. However, there are so many aspects of Torah, it would be hard to fit it all into one day, even if you had all day to learn. Here, I want to explain and prioritize it, which can be beneficial to the newbie and the experienced.

Tanakh, Posqim, and Talmud

The Tanakh, of course, is comprised of the Torah/Humash, Nevi'im, and Kethuvim. Unfortunately today for many people, studying Tanakh is left for the kids, whereas adults are often unaware of much of the content and meaning of the Tanakh outside of the weekly parasha.

A friend of mine once put it like this: beginning to learn the Gemara without having learned the Tanakh proficiently is like entering a massive forest without a map or compass for navigating your way around. The Tanakh is the map and compass.

I personally think it's better, then, to learn posqim along with Tanakh as the main basis and thrust of learning. The posqim take the halakhic content of the Talmud and lay it out for you in bite-sized form. This is absolutely essential to know what the final halakha of the Gemara is, since it may not always be clear. One basically has to be very experienced, diligent, and proficient in their learning to accurately extract that halakhic information from the Talmud. The posqim navigated the vast expanse of the Talmud to draw out for us the practical application. We say a quote from Tanna Devei Eliyahu every day in Shaharith which goes: "Everyone who learns halakhoth every day is ensured to be a 'son' (inheritor) of the world to come, as it says, "the walkings (halikhoth) of the world are His" (Havaquq 3), don't read 'halikhoth' but 'halakhoth'."

`Ein Ya`aqov

`Ein Ya`aqov is a book comprised of all the agadic content of the Talmud and commentary. Through learning it, along with the Tanakh and posqim, one will have learned the whole entire written Torah and the entire codified oral Torah - and that's huge. The only thing missing would be pilpul of the Gemara, which is a great thing to learn, but it can be heavy and burdensome on anyone if they focus too much on it, or make this the focus of their learning. This only needs to be said for those who are not like the old time learners of which there aren't very many left, who don't have any problem getting through it all and absorbing it quickly.

Sifrei Qabala
Then we have the books of Qabala, most notably the Zohar and the Kithvei Ari z"l. Just like if you learn the Talmud without the vessels you have received from learning the Tanakh, if you learn these books without the foundation of Tanakh and halakha - you're missing the vessels to receive their light, and you could be taking the words of these books out of proper context and understanding, creating huge problems and lots of spiritual damage.

That being said, the Zohar is almost impossible to understand even on a literal level when the content is not something very practical or literal. It takes a lot of crying out to HaShem with tears and meditation on single verses of the Zohar to get any real awareness. I am not saying this from experience, because I have no real understanding of the Zohar at all, and I'm a newbie, but the Ari z"l would spend much time during his days in total seclusion and hitbodedut on the Nile river begging HaShem for understanding the Zohar. Upon these understandings and also upon his God-given understandings (da`ath qodhesh) of the Tanakh, Talmud, etc, were his teachings written down by his student R' Hayyim Wittal z"l. These are known as the Kithvei Ari z"l.

Very similar to the Ari z"l and Rashb"i (the author of the Zohar) was R' Nahman, whose name Nahman ben Simha is the same gemattria as Shim`on Ben Yohai (Rashb"i). Also, the Ari z"l and R' Nahman both passed from this earth at the age of 38. Both of them spent much time in hitbodedut, which they attribute to their immensely high and unparalleled levels of holiness and awareness of HaShem. All these three Sadiqim embodied the soul of Moshe-Mashiah, a concept brought to us in the Zohar - see my previous post here for more on this subject.

R' Nahman's books may be technically considered as books of Qabala, Hasiduth, or even Musar depending on which books - however, I am grouping them here with the Zohar and the Kithvei Ari z"l, since each one is another layer of the other. All of them do one essential thing, and that is to explain the Tanakh, Talmud, Midrashim, and any and all Torah sources from their spiritual sources. Meaning, they give you the blueprint of the upper worlds, and they bring it down into practical application. Learning their Torah is high, even if you don't understand it, as long as you learn with the right intention of just drawing closer to HaShem, seeking His will, learning to do His will, and to increase Torah knowledge on this earth for the sake of His Name.

For the 'Rationalists'

I hate to bring them up or mention their beliefs at all. If you're unfamiliar with who I'm referring to, it's better to remain unfamiliar.

Many of them use the Ramba"m as a source for their heresy and unbelief in the Torah of the Sadiqim, especially the aforementioned in the previous section. They have no true grasp of the Torah, no da`ath qodhesh, nothing at all to work with. They're lost and may all their plans, attempts, and efforts to trap more souls in their error fall flat with no success at all!

The Ramba"m specified in his Mishne Torah that it is ideal to break one's Torah study into three categories:

  1. Written Torah (Tanakh)
  2. Oral Torah (the Mishna, commentaries on Tanakh, etc)
  3. Talmud, specifically Gemara. Within this third category, he includes the study of Ma`ase Bereshith and Ma`ase HaMerkava, which to anyone even vaguely familiar to what we call Qabala today, these are the main sections that it is comprised of. It is the study of the secrets of Torah.
What R' Nahman Studied

I remember reading that he could be found studying Tanakh for hours on end. He also loved to study `Ein Ya`aqov, obviously the Zohar and Kithvei Ari z"l, and he advised all of his talmidhim to study posqim/halakha daily. While he advised them to study the Shulhan `Arukh, he also stated (the source is unclear, but said to be in the book Siah Sarfei Qodhesh) that in 'the future' we will have to follow the Ramba"m.

The reason he stated this is likely because only the Ramba"m's Mishne Torah covers the entire scope of halakha, and it will be necessary to know all of them in the Land of Israel at the time of the redemption, when many aspects of Torah that were not relevant to Jewish life in exile will again be relevant - soon in our days.

Also, R' Nahman's advice of learning Shulhan `Arukh doesn't negate those communities who always followed the Ramba"m - in my opinion. I don't think, at all, that anyone today or 100-200 years ago would have had to drop their community's halakhic practice and conform to the halakha of the Shulhan `Arukh.

However, on all the issues that the Shulhan `Arukh and Mishne Torah both cite - the halakha agrees 86% of the time. That is a very high percentage, and clearly, there isn't much difference between the two codes.

Back to Rabenu. Despite what he liked to learn, he clearly was baqi in all of the Torah. No one else has brought together so many pieces of the Torah from so many different sources, to enlighten us on where all the Torah concepts are rooted (70 Panim of Torah) in the upper universes, and not only that, but has drawn them down to us, giving us practical actions that can be performed based upon these high and unparalleled revelations.

I hope this post has been beneficial to every reader in inspiring them to learn Torah and to perhaps better organize their study.

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