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One Book At A Time

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Those who choose to go (or go back) to college at a more mature age will testify that it is not a simple decision. Beyond the financial and logistical considerations, many find the idea of starting over to be intimidating. Most people, by nature, are afraid of looking unskilled and uneducated. 

Throughout the ages, this same fear has kept many Jews from exploring their Jewish heritage more intensely. The rabbis in the Midrash describe a person who enters a busy Yeshiva (school of Torah) and asks how a person can begin to learn the law? They answer him, “‘First a man reads from a scroll, then the Book [of the law], and then the prophets, and then the writings; when he has completed the study of scriptures, he learns the Talmud, and then the laws (halachot) and then the legends (aggadot).’ After hearing all this, [the person] says to himself, ‘When can I learn all this?’ and he turns back from the gate” (Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:3).

The description of this man is presented as an explanation of the verse in Proverbs 24:7, “Wisdom is as unattainable to a fool as coral; He does not open his mouth in the gate.” Coral may be delicate and look exotic, but it is actually rather easy to harvest since it flourishes quite near the shore.  The man who hears the many topics he must study and walks away feeling intimidated (“He does not open his mouth in the gate.”), doesn’t realize that learning about Judaism is like “coral,” easy to gather.

One should not give up on study so easily. The Midrash says further: “Anyone who is a fool says, ‘When will I succeed in reading the whole law!?’ But the wise person…learns one chapter everyday until he completes the whole law. [As] God said, ‘[For this commandment that I command you this day], it is not too hard’ (Deuteronomy 30:11). If it is too hard, it is…[only] because you do not study it” (Deuteronomy Rabbah 8:3).

Copyright © 2013 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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