August 7, 2018

Tremping & Talking in Learning (Nitzavim-Vayelech)

“It is in your mouth and in your heart to do it” (Devarim 30:14)

In this week’s parshiot Moshe emphasises the value of Torah study and how our choices should be guided by the laws and values of the Torah. Rather than Torah being a distant and disconnected discipline, we are told that we should regard Torah as something that is close to us which resides both in our mouth and in our heart.

Traditionally, this is understood to mean that we should study the words of Torah with our mouth and absorb the lessons of Torah in our heart. However, according to Rav Dessler, the idea that Torah should reside in our mouth does not solely refer to study. Instead, ‘if a person gets used to speaking about Torah and holiness this will have a tremendous influence on their thought patterns and also on their emotions’.

Based on these words of Rav Dessler we learn that Torah shouldn’t just be something we study; instead, it should be something we share with others. We shouldn’t just learn Torah; instead, we should ‘talk in learning’ such that ideas that we learn are spread through the conversations that we have.

While I am known to enjoy silence, I also enjoy ‘talking in learning’ and I consider such conversations as a way to fulfill the verse ‘how I love Your Torah – all day it is my conversation’ (Tehillim 119:97). Such conversations sanctify silence and show us how we can learn something from anyone.

And this brings me to my question.

On a number of occasions over the past few months I have given a tremp (lift) to men and women in different parts of the country. After getting in my car and having checked that they are comfortable I make it known to my new passenger that if they have any Torah idea that they wish to share, I’d love to hear them.

At times the passenger doesn’t ‘bite’, and so we may discuss other current affairs. Alternatively, we may continue the journey in silence. However, on more than a few occasions my passenger will respond, and I may then spend the next 5-15 minutes listening to a Torah idea or story from them which conveys a Torah value.

However, it is more than noteworthy that in almost all cases those who do share a Torah though appear to be more chareidi, while those who regard themselves as being Modern Orthodox or Religious Zionist let me know that they have nothing to share. Of course, one may argue that this may be due to a level of competence or confidence in Torah, but my most recent experience involved Yeshiva students in their sixth year of a Religious Zionist yeshiva! Truthfully, I cannot comprehend how students who are in their mid-twenties who have been learning Torah full-time for six years have no Torah that they could share!! And it led me to wonder why.

Having thought about this question I suspect that a major reason for this difference relates to the style of Torah study in different communities. While the type of Torah enjoyed and shared within chareidi communities is incredibly deep but also includes what I would call the ‘light change’ of vertlach (brief Torah insights) which can often involve gematria and wordplay, Modern Orthodox or Religious Zionist Torah communities place little value on this second category and pride themselves as people who only look at substantive topics. This means that they struggle to distil complexity into bite-size tremp-worthy Torah thoughts.

Whether there are other factors at play or not about this matter, I think this is deeply problematic because if we don’t know how to share Torah when we are travelling, or how to ‘talk in learning’ with others, we cannot claim to realise the words of ‘how I love Your Torah – all day it is my conversation’, and if that love is absent, so too is so much else.

As we look towards the coming year, and project they type of person that we want to be, I’d like to suggest that we think of ways of imbuing our conversations with Torah thoughts because, to quote Rav Dessler, ‘if a person gets used to speaking about Torah and holiness this will have a tremendous influence on their thought patterns and also on their emotions’.

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