From Torahs to Stories – Part 6

Rav Yair Dreifuss • 2012

In our times, people are able to achieve that level earlier than in previous generations, when a longer process of maturation and gradual elevation was required. At the same time, there are also many cases of failed ‘shortcuts’: people getting ahead of themselves, a spiritual laziness that supports a world of superficial, banal experiences.

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Two Levels of Learning

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It is important to note that despite what we have said earlier, Rav Nachman began with Torahs, not stories: even the spontaneous creation of a niggun is based on a deep investment in learning. There must always be a groundwork of intellectual labor, arguments and self-awareness. A person cannot transcend reason and logic if he does not first possess them.

But the relationship between the two – intellectual knowing and transcendence – is changing. I am always impressed by young people who are far more open to these possibilities, to the paths, mindset and tools that enable transcendence. In our times, people are able to achieve that level earlier than in previous generations, when a longer process of maturation and gradual elevation was required. At the same time, there are also many cases of failed ‘shortcuts’: people getting ahead of themselves, a spiritual laziness that supports a world of superficial, banal experiences.

These two sides – labor and creativity – must be balanced. On the one hand, one must study, work, deepen, remain driven; on the other hand, the learning and labor process itself must be aimed at something beyond. It is necessary to distinguish between the two levels, but that first level must hint at the second, creating an opening for its development (rather than its suppression).

Oftentimes the stage of learning can become both a means and an all-consuming ends – and this is what traps people in their own knowledge. Our rabbis taught: “A Torah scholar without knowledge – he is not better than a corpse.” How can one be a Torah scholar without knowledge? The answer is simple: if he does not understand what he knows, he is locked into words. Many people may carry a lot of information, but this is a kind of knowing devoid of a spiritual quality; on a deeper level, they do not understand what they know; they cannot see their own mass of knowledge from any other angle. They can not look at themselves askance or from the side, so they take themselves far too seriously. In every discipline, a person can become an expert – and that is where the real trouble lies. You cannot build on that first ‘level’ – the words will remain forever closed and uncultivated. For a Torah to touch upon actual existence, it must suggest at something beyond – to a story, a niggun, a silence. Only such a Torah will live on.

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