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     Sichos In English -> Books -> Mysticism -> The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim

Overview

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXV

Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXX

Chapter XXXI

Chapter XXXII

Chapter XXXIII

The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim
A classic chassidic treatise on the mystic core of spiritual vitality
by Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn of Lubavitch


Chapter XXIX

Translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

Published and copyright © by Sichos In English
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  Chapter XXVIIIChapter XXX  

When a student has a good and powerful intellectual potential, and a broad-minded outlook, he can study in a deeper manner; for example, [he can] analyze the wording of the Mishnah, focusing on [what would appear to be] the most succinct wording, what appears to be extra — perhaps even an extra word — and the order of the Mishnah. When [a student] thinks deeply about all these matters and labors with deep thought, he will find several new insights concerning the clarification of the Mishnah’s intent. In this manner, he can derive several laws.

Nevertheless, a person must be very careful and cautious that [his study] follows the path of truth. Because [when making such deductions], one’s path may deviate, and one may follow a crooked way that will cause one to forfeit all [the benefit of] one’s study, heaven forbid. Instead, it would have been preferable that the person’s embryo had been overturned,[376] as will be explained.

This approach requires much effort, effort with one’s soul and effort with one’s body, straight thinking, and a steady connection. Most of all, it requires that one desire the truth. The ultimate purpose of such study should be [to fulfill the mitzvah of] concentrated Torah study

A person whom G-d graciously endowed with a good intellectual potential should study according to his capacity. Nevertheless, as explained above, he should not seek to develop novel explanations, but instead to engage in concentrated study. He should seek the truth and weigh out every idea thoroughly in his mind.

According to my conception, this approach to study is most appropriate with regard to [the study of] the Mishnah. For [the Mishnah] reflects a concise and precise [choice of wording] that follows lengthy and extensive research. After the lengthy pilpul of the Sages with regard to the Oral Law, our holy master[377] [condensed] all the extensive discussions and included them in the words of the Mishnah. And the concise words of the Mishnah encompass all of the lengthy explanations which have been clarified and properly elucidated. The wording used — [indeed,] every word — is exact, fitting the true intent of the subject.

With regard to the Gemara and the explanation of the Mishnah, by contrast, I am not sure if carefully analyzing the choice of words is a desirable approach to study. Certainly, the choice of wording is very precise. Nevertheless, since the goal is the dialectic give and take and the pilpul, to raise a question and offer a resolution, the essence of the study should highlight the focused analysis of the subject. Unquestionably, the wording and the choice of terms should be considered thoroughly. Nonetheless, this is not the essence of the deeper study of the Gemara.

(The statement that we must analyze carefully the wording and the [choice of] terms applies only when one has studied the subject thoroughly, and has clarified and properly elucidated the matter with concentrated thought. [When that is completed,] when he reviews [the subject’s] wording and analyzes it, he will certainly find positive points. Nevertheless, even then, he must use extra care and weighted thinking so as not to put unwarranted focus on a concept which is not fundamental. Certainly, [this applies if one’s approach] is not genuine.)

The essence of the matter is to concentrate and to deepen one’s understanding of all subjects. [Whenever one encounters] a statement [of our Sages] or a particular rationale, one should not think that all there is is the obvious understanding of the matter. Instead, one must understand that every concept contains several levels of depth.

Nevertheless, a person who does not possess a broad intellectual potential and whose mind cannot extend itself greatly should content himself with the obvious understanding [of the subject], [following] the approach outlined in ch. 28 with regard to the comprehension of the simple meaning [of a passage]. [A student] should not labor to obtain an objective that is beyond his capacities. For he will merely waste his time and will not accomplish his goal (or he will err and fool himself, heaven forbid) unless he is directed by a teacher or master who will show him the depth the subject contains.

If, however, a person possesses the intellectual potential to attain a deep understanding, he must deepen his perception of all matters, establishing a firm bond between his intellect and knowledge and the subject of the statement [of our Sages]. [Inevitably,] he will find within it depth, and he will uncover new insights into that statement which he did not think of beforehand. He can expand that [perception of] the depth and identify its particulars and explain them. (Not only is the above possible for such a student, he must study in such a superior manner. The expression “he can” is used with regard to the subject, i.e., the subject — as well as the student — contains the potential for [in depth study].)

Similarly, he should deepen his understanding of every dialectic give and take in the Gemara, concentrating and digging deeper into the questions, the resolutions, and the entire discussion. Indubitably, there will be questions raised with regard to certain matters that according to the obvious understanding of the subject do not appear ambiguous. And yet, when he analyzes the subject carefully, questions will arise with regard to the approach of the inquirer or that of the one who offers the resolution, or with regard to the fundamental point of the concluding judgment. He will exert himself to resolve [the questions he raised]. All of this will be done in an authentic manner with genuine thoughts.

When he completes the study of the entire passage, and it is clear and ordered in his [mind], he should deepen his understanding of the motivating principles of the passage in general. He should clarify and analyze the matter with concentrated thought and see if all the particulars fit. For every particular contributes to the clarification of the others. This can lead to much sharpening [of one’s ideas] and pilpul, in particular with regard to the deep halachos contained in the Gemara.

The person should be both sharp and questioning, and patient and seeking resolutions,[378] for both these approaches are necessary. As explained in Shaarei Orah, in the maamar entitled BeChof Heh BeKislev, sec. 56, when a sharp and questioning person is committed to the truth of the Torah, his level surpasses that of a patient person who seeks resolutions [to difficulties]. (See the commentary of Rabbeinu Asher to Horios 14a which explains that Rabbi Zeira, [although described as being “sharp and questioning”], was also able to make conclusions based on a passage and derive decisions reflecting halachah. Nevertheless, he came to those decisions on the basis of pilpul. (This interpretation is also given by Shaarei Orah.)

Rabbah bar Masnah, by contrast, [is described as “patient and seeking resolutions”] for he would wait and analyze. [Nevertheless,] he was also sharp and learned in pilpul as Rashi explains. Thus he also would analyze the subject and plumb to its depth. Nonetheless, the depth to which one can reach through pilpul, through a dialectic give and take, using questions and resolutions, is far more advantageous as explained in Shaarei Orah, chs. 54-56).

The above, however, [is true] only when the pilpul is true, and the conceptual flow is structured. (See the Jerusalem Talmud, Horios 3:8, and the commentary of the P’nei Moshe, entry kodem lipilpulin. When a person has a strong intellectual potential, and the pilpul is also structured in an ordered fashion, then he will be “patient and seek resolutions,” and reach a conclusion that reflects the halachah.

(This is true only with regard to a pilpul based on truth. [Such a pilpul] can also be structured in an ordered fashion. When, however, a pilpul is false at its core, it will also be disordered, and one will not be able to arrive at a conclusion that reflects the halachah, as will be explained[379] in the name of the Maharal of Prague.)

[A student] should focus intently on the analyses of Rashi’s commentary, for as the Shaloh writes in his tractate Shavuos, p. 181b, “concealed in each and every statement of Rashi are wondrous dimensions.” With his pure and simple language, [Rashi] prevents a person involved in analysis from making an error, [averts the possibility of] doubt arising, and resolves several questions without them being asked, because of the simplicity of the language used. For his wording has been clarified and assessed carefully. Therefore everyone with an adroit intellectual potential should carefully analyze Rashi’s wording. [Needless to say, ] one must do so using straightforward thinking and a careful process of examination on the basis of truth as explained above.

Similarly, one must study Tosafos in a proficient manner. Note the statements of the Shaloh, in his section Torah SheBaal Peh, p. 417a,[380] with regard to manner and order in which Tosafos should be studied.

If G-d has endowed [a student] with an extra dimension of knowledge and understanding, he should look into the text Darchei HaGemara, authored by Rabbi Yitzchak Kampanton. There he will find satisfaction, and an effective path to study the Talmud and its commentaries. Some of his statements have been quoted by the Shaloh, pp. 412a-413b.[381] Nevertheless, the path of study which he recommends requires straightforward thinking and a very powerful intellectual potential. It is acquired with much composure and great patience.

The Shaloh, p. 413b, writes:

Know my sons, may their Rock and their Redeemer guard them, that a person who studies halachos every day requires knowledge and understanding to comprehend [them]. He should conceive intellectually of the depth of the subjects, grasp each and every matter in a fundamental way, and make use of the discipline of pilpul wisely. For there is no [limit to] the value of pilpul, [provided] the pilpul is true, and each of those [arguing opposite positions] will acknowledge his adversary’s words if his position proves correct. Through such a process, [one receives] a broader [understanding] of the subject with G-d’s help, [for] He aids those who come to purify [themselves].

After analyzing the simple meaning of the halachah, [a student] should review the halachah out loud, with happiness. Although the Zohar, Parshas Bereishis,[382] explains that our Sages’ statement:[383] “If a word is worth a sela, silence is worth two,” applies even to the words of Torah; i.e., “your heart should not be hasty to utter a word before G-d.”[384] This means that when a person stands before the Divine Presence — i.e., when he is occupied with Torah study or prayer — he should not hurry to speak. Instead, he should speak clearly and properly. On the term:[385] veshinantam, “And you shall teach them diligently,” our Sages comment[386] that the review that one does orally should reflect a review within one’s heart. Only afterwards should the words be pronounced out loud. On the verse:[387] “They are life to those who express them,” our Sages comment:[388] “to those who express them orally.”

Synopsis:

[This chapter] outlines a course of study for a person with a developed intellectual potential. [It] reaches the conclusion that a careful analysis of the wording used is more appropriate while studying the Mishnah. While studying the Gemara, by contrast, one should [focus more on] concentrated analysis of the subject matter.

[The chapter emphasizes the importance of] being both “sharp and questioning, and patient and seeking resolutions.” [It also speaks of the importance of] carefully studying the wording used by Rashi.

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) Cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Berachos 1:2.

  2. (Back to text) [This is the expression used to refer to Rebbe, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the author of the Mishnah.]

  3. (Back to text) [See the conclusion of tractate Horios which contrasts these antithetical approaches to Torah study.]

  4. (Back to text) See ch. 31.

  5. (Back to text) This is the conclusion of the section entitled Torah SheBaal Peh.

  6. (Back to text) This is in the section entitled Torah SheBaal Peh, Klallei Iyun.

  7. (Back to text) P. 2a.

  8. (Back to text) Megillah 18a.

  9. (Back to text) Koheles 5a.

  10. (Back to text) Devarim 6:7.

  11. (Back to text) See the Sifri to that verse.

  12. (Back to text) Mishlei 4:22. [We have translated the verse according to its interpretation by our Sages, rather than give its literal meaning.]

  13. (Back to text) Eruvin 54a.


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     Sichos In English -> Books -> Mysticism -> The Tree of Life — Kuntres Etz HaChayim

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