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A Childish Understanding of the Torah

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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Rabbi Meir said: When the Jews stood before Sinai to receive the Torah, G-d said to them: “I swear, I will not give you the Torah unless you provide worthy guarantors who will assure that you will observe its laws.”

The Jews responded, “Master of the world, our forefathers will be our guarantors!”

“Your guarantors themselves require guarantors!” was G-d’s reply.

“Master of the world,” the Jews exclaimed, “our prophets will guarantee our observance of the Torah.”

“I have grievances against them, too. ‘The shepherds have rebelled against Me’ (Jeremiah 2:8),” G-d replied. “Bring proper guarantors and only then will I give you the Torah.”

As a last resort, the Jews declared, “our children will serve as our guarantors!”

“They truly are worthy guarantors,” G-d replied. “Because of them I will give the Torah.”

(Midrash Rabbah, Song of Songs 1:4)

The white-bearded sages and the erudite rabbis weren’t sufficient to satisfy G-d’s “need” for a guarantor. Why? Who can better guarantee the transmission of the Law than the intellectuals, philosophers, and theologians who have devoted their lives to developing it and teaching its wisdom to myriads of disciples throughout the ages? Why did G-d prefer the Torah study of the child whose mind is constantly distracted, moving on to far more important subjects, such as which game to play during recess, the caliber of the snack which his mother packed in his lunch bag, or his plans for summer vacation?

Yet, there is a unique quality exclusive to a child’s method of learning, a quality which is appealing to G-d and is the most effective guarantee for the future of the Torah.

One cannot study without questioning. “Why?” “What is the basis for your statement?” and “Why can’t it be done differently?” are rudimentary and indispensable phrases for any serious student. However, the child and adult harbor very different intentions when voicing these questions: the adult is doubting the very premise of the idea/law/principle which is being taught, and if the answer is not to his liking, he might altogether reject the teaching. Conversely, the child has an acute curiosity, but he doesn’t doubt that which he is taught; he is aware that his wisdom and knowledge is limited and therefore accepts what his parent or teacher says. He asks questions because he wants to understand more, not because he is skeptical of the information he has heard.

We are command to study Torah, and this involves closely examining every word of both the Written and Oral Law. G-d doesn’t want us to blindly accept His teachings, he wants us to use our intellectual skills to analyze, probe, and question. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that our minds are inherently limited, whereas G-d’s wisdom is infinite. We are obligated to question, but at the same time to unquestioningly accept each word of Torah to be the absolute truth. Only this method of study ensures the eternal survival of the Torah, guaranteeing that its teachings won’t be forsaken because of doubts which inevitably will arise (after all, that is the nature of intellect—it can always be questioned and doubted).

By the way, for those of you who are reading this and are thinking, “how can an adult be expected to blindly accept a religious doctrine?” — that is precisely why G-d didn’t accept you to be the guarantor for His Torah…

The children aren’t the only guarantors of the Torah. The adult who dedicates himself to the Torah in a childish manner, he too can take credit for ensuring the continuity of the Torah.

The child has an acute curiosity, but he doesn't doubt that which he is taught

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Education
Torah » Education
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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Oral Law
G–d orally explained all the 613 Commandments to Moses. These explanations constitute the Oral Law.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Jeremiah
1. Jewish prophet who lived in the 5th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Jeremiah. The book is replete with prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
Song of Songs
One of the 24 books of the Bible, authored by King Solomon. This book, which ostensibly is a love poem, is an analogy meant to depict the love between G-d and His bride, the Jewish Nation.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.