Question: Rabbi, I am not the scholarly type and never did well in school, and it seems that Torah study is “just not for me.” I pray three times a day and perform mitzvos, such as giving charity and volunteering for the local chesed organizations. Can I still be a good Jew without studying Torah every day?
Rav Chaim Mintz responds:
Studying Torah is our lifeline, the greatest of all mitzvos and a must for every Jew. The Talmud (Berachos 59b) compares a Jew without Torah study to a fish out of water, which cannot survive. In fact, because Torah is so vital for our existence, every baby has an angel that teaches it the entire Torah, while it is in its mother’s womb (Niddah 30b). However, this Torah learned is totally forgotten at the time of birth, when the fetus is given a “smack” from the angel.
One may wonder: What point is there in this learning, if it is forgotten in any event? The answer is that the second time is always easier than the first. The holy Torah that was learned leaves an indelible imprint on a person, making it that much easier to absorb the Torah one learns in this world. This ensures that every Jew who wishes to study Torah will be able to connect to the wellsprings of Torah found within him.
You should also realize that although you may feel satisfied with your life without Torah study, it may be because you have no idea what you are missing. We see this concept in a fascinating story related in the Talmud (Megillah 7b). Abaye had eaten the Purim seudah at the home of Rabbah, who was poor and did not serve much. Nevertheless, Abaye left feeling full and satisfied. Rabbah then sent Abaye to deliver shalach manos to Mari bar Mar, who invited Abaye to join him at his extravagant seudah. Abaye accepted the invitation, and once he began to eat, he ate 60 platefuls! He commented that the food was so delicious that he could have “eaten the plate” as well.
The Talmud draws a lesson from this story — that a poor man may be unaware of his hunger, simply because he never experienced the feeling of being full. Similarly, there are people who feel satisfied with their lives, only because they have never tasted life’s true enjoyments. As King David states (Tehillim 19:11): Torah is sweeter than honey. Once a person tastes the true enjoyment of Torah learning, new horizons will open up for him and he will realize how hungry he really was, and will never be able to get enough of it.
In truth, there is no Jew whose appetite for Torah cannot be stimulated. There are so many different segments of Torah, and everyone can find their niche. Just because one area of the Torah doesn’t seem to work for you doesn’t mean that you should be left out. The key is to discover your own taste and learning style, what method will open you up, and discuss with your rebbi or mentor which type of learning suits you best.
In addition, it is important to realize that there are many people who did not connect to learning when they were younger, but as their minds develop they acquire a fresh appreciation for the analytical and in-depth study of the Talmud. Many of the concepts also become more relevant and alive as they mature.
Therefore, no one has an excuse not to learn Torah. If he will just give it a chance when he is mature, and find the part of Torah that resonates with him, he will be happy to discover that he too can join the elite crowd of Jews who have the great privilege to learn and understand the holy Torah. This is not just a lofty thought, but something we see happening all the time.
This question and answer session is taken from Oorah’s Ask the Rabbi book by Rabbi Chaim Mintz, published by ArtScroll.