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Home » Education, Shmini

Shemini: Examine Again

Submitted by on March 23, 2019 – 11:37 pmNo Comment | 202 views

Examine again, is a central feature of Torah study. We derive this from the words “examine, he examined”[1]  a description of an examination made by Moses.

On the inaugural day of the Tabernacle, Moses left instructions for a particular offering, and when they went unheeded, he investigated the matter. However, he wasn’t satisfied with the information he gleaned from his first examination. After examining the matter once, he examined again—”examine, he examined.”

Half Point
Our sages were called sofrim because they would count the words and letters of the Torah. A sofer is a scribe who writes a sefer – a Torah scroll, and it means a counter. They counted and informed us that the midpoint of the Torah is the space between these two words, “examine, he examined.”[2]

On the surface, this information sounds like an interesting piece of trivia, but our sages didn’t do trivial. Every teaching carried deep meaning. This is especially true about teachings that relate to the entirety of the Torah. If our sages saw fit to mark the precise midpoint of the Torah, they must have been trying to tell us something about the Torah and Torah study. The gist of the lesson is that when we examine only once, we have reached only half of the Torah’s ideal. To embrace the entire Torah, we must examine again. In this essay, we will examine several lessons that can be gleaned from this teaching.

The Book is not Enough
We are known as the people of the book, but the truth is that the book is incomplete. We cannot understand the written Torah without the benefit of the Oral tradition that G-d taught Moses, that Moses relayed to the people, and that the people passed along to succeeding generations. These teachings were ultimately recorded in the Talmud and they shed light on the precise meaning of the Torah.

For example, the Torah tells us to bind the Torah to our arms and between our eyes, but it doesn’t tell us precisely how this is done. It is only in the Oral tradition that the details of Tefilin are fleshed out. The Torah tells us to write the Torah on our doorposts, but it is only in the Oral Tradition that the details of Mezuzah are fleshed out. The same is true for every commandment in the Torah. What do we believe? What constitutes idolatry? How do we celebrate Passover? How do we sound the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah? What are the kosher dietary laws? One can only know these details from the Oral tradition.

Examine, the written book, but know that reading the book is only half the task. The second half is to examine again. Study the Oral tradition and read the book again in light of those traditions.[3]

Think Again
One of the root causes of sin and divisiveness is a rash reaction. When something strikes our fancy and we jump to take it without considering the ramifications, we often land up in hot water. It might be poisonous, it might belong to someone else, it might fill our stomachs just before supper, it might not be kosher. There are so many questions that we must answer before we jump to fulfill our fancy.

When it occurs to us that someone said something hurtful and we jump immediately to react, we might create stress where stress was unnecessary. It might not have been meant the way it sounded. It might not have been directed at us. It might have nothing to do with us and was simply the product of the other person having a difficult day. Yet because of our rash reaction, we might have ruined a relationship.

The way of Torah is to examine and examine again.[4]

Don’t Be Satisfied
No matter how much Torah one has studied, one cannot be satisfied. Even if you are Moses, and you have examined the entire Torah with all the teachings that G-d taught you at Sinai, you have still not learned enough. You are only at the half point. Never be satisfied. Examine, and examine again.

When we read something and think we understand, we must examine, and examine again. We might have misunderstood. Even if we understood correctly, we might have missed some of the depth. Examine, and examine again. There is always a deeper layer. Something we missed on the first pass.[5]

To Know Not

“The ultimate of knowledge is to know that we know not.”[6] This statement was made by one of the foremost Jewish thinkers of the fourteenth century. To know that we know not is a critical element of Torah study. Inasmuch as Torah study is about increasing our knowledge, we don’t learn only to fill our minds with knowledge, we learn to connect with G-d. And since there is no way to know G-d, the ultimate of knowledge is to know that we know not.

When we study any other subject, our intention is to become an expert. When we study Torah, our intention is to become a receptacle. All forms of study turn us into a something. The measure of how large a something we become, depends on how much we study. Torah study turns us into a nothing—but for G-d, we are nothing. The measure of how much of a nothing we become depends on how much Torah we study.

This is a paradox. On the one hand, Torah study is about mastering and understanding the subject matter. On the other hand, Torah study is about emptying our minds of self-generated understanding and becoming a receptacle for divine knowledge.

This leads us to yet a deeper understanding of why the midpoint of Torah is the spot between the words, examine, he examined. When we study the Torah, we begin by examining each idea and argument. After we have mastered the idea, we examine again. Not only to look for a deeper explanation but also to seek the sacred divinity in it that transcends our understanding. The first examination comes through analyses. The second examination comes through meditation.

In the second examination, we don’t try to understand. We try to connect with the idea. We dig deep into the concept that we studied and attach our minds to it with an utter and absolute focus until it comes alive in our mind with an energy all its own. New depth is revealed to us on ever increasing levels until we acknowledge that we truly know not. We transcend our own understanding and reach the ultimate of knowledge. The humble acknowledgment that we know not.

This is the trust form of examine and examine again.[7]

[1] Leviticus, 10:16. See www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/shmini/mer.html for a broader treatment of this subject.

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Kidushin, 30a.

[3] Degel Machaneh Efraim.

[4] Haderash Vehaiyun.

[5] Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum of Ujhel, also known as the Yismach Moshe.

[6] Sefer Ha’ikrim 2:30.

[7] Likutei Torah, pp. 4-8. Tanya chapters 3 and 5.

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