Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Beauty of Nach

When I was (much) younger and hadn't yet started to learn intensively I was approached by the local Lubavitcher shaliach in our community and asked if I wanted to start with some Talmud.  Being a good boy I went to ask my father for advice and he told me not to do it.  When I asked why he answered: "You haven't learn the entire Bible yet.  How can you build an upper floor if there's no main level?"
One of the major shortcomings of modern frumi Jewish education is its almost complete ignorance of those parts of the Bible that follow the last verse of Devarim.  Yes, yes, I know that lots of people say Tehillim and each of the five Megillos gets its chance to shine during the year but the Bible itself is never actually studied in its primary form instead of through an interpretive lens.  When was the last time you actually sat down and read straight through Shmuel Aleph and Beis instead of relying on excerpts from the weekly haftaros?
But to my view this approach, of leaving Nach as an entity off to the side except when called upon, is a major shortcoming for a few reasons.
First, if one wants to learn proper Jewish history then one needs to read the relevant parts of Navi and Ksuvim.  There is simply no substitute for the accouts therein.  Unlike many other histories, the version in the Bible differs in two important ways.  One is that for a religious history, it brings all the good and the bad deeds of our ancestors without flinching.  Dovid HaMelech's triumphs and downfalls, Shlomo HaMelech's successes and failure, all are brought without any attempt at whitewashing because, and this is the second difference, it isn't so much the dry reading of history that the Bible wants to give us as the moral understanding of history.  Did Chezkiyahu HaMelech spark a major revival in Jewish life in Israel?  Absolutely, and he also treated the Babylonians with excessive deference.  Like any human being, he rose to greatness but also slipped on occasion.  The Bible does not try to hide this but wants us to learn from it.
Secondly, there is the principally moral section of the Bible, the works of the Nevi'im.  This is worth mentioning especially in today's day and age when too many of the frum population have come to believe that morality revolved on how long you wait after meat to eat milk and how mehdarin  your tzitzis are.  If one peruses through the Prophets a different message comes to light.  The main objectives of Judaism aren't necessarily what we are being told their are.  Yishiyahu did not upbraid our ancestors because their tefillin wasn't mehudar enough.  Yirmiyahu didn't claim that the destruction of our Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt) came about because people didn't check their strawberries with light boxes after soaking them in bleach.  Yechezkel didn't rebuke his contemporaries over how long their sleeves and skirts were.  They spoke to the people about righteousness, honesty, fair dealings and avoidance of societal oppression.  No, there is more to Judaism that just those but these values are the foundation upon which all else rests.  Given a choice between a decent society and a crooked one that is medakdek in the littlest chumros, which do we really believe God prefers?
As my father once told me, you can learn the rules about Judaism from the Talmud.  But if you want to know the real deep meaning of it, what God really wants from us in this world, then you can only learn about it in Navi.


Jennifer in MamaLand said...

"When was the last time you actually sat down and read straight through Shmuel Aleph and Beis instead of relying on excerpts from the weekly haftaros?"

Umm... when I went to a girls' high school? Well, okay, I personally did NOT. But girls get this all-round wonderful comprehensive education - and a ton of practical halacha thrown in, so they're not hanging about trying to pasken from some obscure gemara they learned in great detail while knowing nothing about hilchos muktzeh.

As I've said all along, boys need a taste of the girls' schools - definitely. Maybe over the summer when the girls are out pursuing wholesome knee-socked activities while boys' chinuch (aka gemara) is so important it never takes a two-month break.

SJ said...

I'mma get to Nach eventually in my blog's study. XD

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Given your post and Jennifer's comment, the question must be: why is the study of gemara in fact considered more significant in that girls only study what they do because they are not allowed (by many) to study what the boys do? The corrolary of that question is thus: why indeed is Nach put on such a back burner?

I am not necessarily disagreeing with your point nor am I necessarily disagreeing with Jennifer's comment that some aspects of the education offered women would be very beneficial to men. The point is, though, that, while I do see faults in our present yeshiva educational systems (relevance should be given much more imporance)there is a reason that it is structured as it is.

The greater issue may be the simple fact that our relationship with Torah She'b'al Peh is often not understood. TSBP is not simply a commentary to the Written Torah which is the more significant part of Revelation. It is in fact TSBP that is the more significant part of Revelation. This extends to Nach. The text without Chazal's explanation of the text is deemed to have limited value. Why is there, though, such divergence between the two? That's the very issue with Nach.

Rabbi Ben Hecht