Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “There is no point at which one can say that he is finished learning.

One of the most frustrating things in the realm of Torah study is that there is no point at which one can say that he is finished learning.

Because of this daunting infinite nature of Torah, students often create artificial end points for themselves.

Throughout Israel, there are many batei midrash where students train to become rabbinical judges.

Most of the students know that the program will not necessarily benefit them financially – they are not guaranteed a job after finishing the program. Why, then, do they enroll in such a program? In many cases, it serves to fill an emotional need: A student can feel that he is not going about aimlessly, getting nowhere.

A person who dedicates his time to Torah study for five years or ten years accomplishes nothing practically but the experience of having sat and learned.

And if he decides to extend his learning for another year, what does he gain?

Again, only the experience of having sat and learned for one more year.

A person who studies at a university for far fewer years receives a diploma.

To be sure, a university diploma is not always worth more than a yeshiva diploma; even an expert in ancient Roman literature cannot always use his degree to make a prosperous living.

Nevertheless, a diploma or a degree gives a student a goal to strive for.

The student proceeds systematically from one well-defined station to another on the way to the ultimate goal of achieving a degree.

Upon reaching the first station, one continues on to the next, and one knows where one will arrive at the end.

When there are no clear stations along the way to a distinct finish line, the lack of a goal becomes a pressing problem:

What is the purpose of all of this? What will happen in the end?

When a person finishes a series of concerted actions with something tangible in his hand, he has the feeling that he has accomplished something real.

In contrast, the lack of clearly defined objectives and goals inherent in the nature of Torah study makes it a very difficult world in which to thrive, and poses a real problem for proponents of intense, long-term Torah study.

In truth, the act of setting out without a clear goal or destination evokes the Torah’s dictate to “follow God your Lord” (Deut. 13:5).

One may know one’s starting point, but not where he will arrive.

There is no assurance that if one sits for a certain period of time, then he will become wise, God-fearing, or pious.

The only instruction is to “follow God” or, as we read in Parashat Lekh Lekha, “Walk before Me” (Gen. 17:1).

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz