“The Torah is not a textbook.
If a textbook is objectively good, I may study from it, but how I relate to it is irrelevant.
I cannot argue with the mathematics it presents.
I cannot argue with the rules of grammar it lays out.
Certainly, I can learn from it, but it is not important to me, because it is utterly independent of me.
It says what it says.
With the Torah, on the other hand, I have to find my message.
I have to figure out our relationship.
Therefore, I have to care.
I cannot glide over the text.
I have to engage it.
But how do I prepare myself to receive the unique message God’s Torah has for me?
How do I get ready to convene with God?
According to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the 18th century mystic and Talmudist , the pre-condition for this meeting is what he calls “self-nullification.”
As developed in the Tanya, his quietly revolutionary work, self-nullification requires one to separate from his ego, his smugness, and his importance.
This is not to denigrate the ego.
We need our egos in order to grow, in order to fulfill the Biblical charge to master the world, in order to affect tikkun olam.
But, just as we suspend our physical creativity, the tangible expression of our ego, on Shabbat and Yom Tov, we must also subordinate our egos, on the deepest level, during those activities in which we seek to join our will to God’s.”
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz