In Jewish practice, Torah study often takes on a ritualized role similar to that of prayer.
A specific place — the best midrash, or “house of study” — is a designated room set aside in many Jewish communal buildings.
Torah study may begin with the recitation of a prayer thanking God for “commanding us to occupy ourselves with the words of Torah” and another asking God to enable us and our descendants to enjoy the knowledge of God through the study of Torah.
The Talmud even records specific prayers for entering and leaving a beit midrash.
How To Study Torah Properly
The way Jews have traditionally studied Torah begins with a bold assumption: that classical sources have the answer, or many answers, to all contemporary questions and issues.
The accumulated wisdom of many generations of commentators is often presented on the same page as the sources upon which those authors are commenting.
This technical feature of Jewish texts reflects–and also helps create–a perception that a conversation is taking place, on which the learner begins to eavesdrop and into which she or he is soon drawn as a participant.
Engaging in dialogue is also fostered by the tradition of studying with a partner (in chevruta, literally “friendship”), interpreting, and debating aloud. This tradition has ancient roots but has been re-emphasized in recent centuries.
Torah study is absolutely and unquestionably great.
It is important to recognize the supreme value of Torah study and to be aware that there are barriers that must be overcome by anyone wishing to enter the wondrous and majestic world of the Torah.
Through Prayer: With prayer everything becomes possible. The greatest god can be achieved through prayer” (Likutey Moharan II, 111).
The first step in Torah study is praying for it. Pray to God, plead with Him, beg Him to allow you the privilege of studying Torah, and plead with Him to help you understand what you study.
As Rebbe Nachman teaches: One must cry and pray very hard to get to understand Torah (Likutey Moharan I, 21:8).
The Rebbe himself did this. When he began to study the Mishnah, he found it impossible to understand.
He wept and wept until he was able to comprehend it by himself. Later, when he studied the Talmud, the same thing happened.
Again he cried bitterly until he was worthy of understanding. This was even true of such esoteric studies as the Zohar and the writings of the Ari.
More than anything, I want you to learn how to think, not what to think. Doing this is living a Torah way of life, and raising thoughtful, creative, and independent thinkers who aren’t afraid of honest, respectful dialogue – something our world desperately needs.
So without further ado, here are my four reasons why Torah study is good for your mind.
1. Beginner’s Mind
Every year the Jewish people read through the entire Torah, week by week. Come fall, it’s time to finish up the last chapter and start all over again at the beginning (and we have been doing this for centuries).
When we study this way, we practice what the Zen Buddhist tradition calls “beginner’s mind.” The text is not new, but we approach the text as if we are first-time students, eager to unpack the wisdom hidden within.
This orientation humbles and challenges us to set aside what we think we know, and opens our minds to learn more.
2. Connection To Jews All Over The World
When we read the Torah every Shabbat, we connect to Jews all over the world who are reading the same words.
While you might not love every portion, when we read Torah on the prescribed schedule, we connect to Jews everywhere.
Better yet, when we tap into this rhythm and calendar, we synchronize with our ancestors and live in their wisdom.
3. Confronting The Horrible
Sometimes, Torah is dangerous. Portions of the Torah can seem to condemn LGBTQ folks or affirm slavery. It’s all in there.
Some people would have us skip it or rip it out, but I do not look to Torah for unequivocal righteousness. Instead, in Torah, I find a harsh but honest reflection of our world.
While the content of Torah is not our moral compass, studying Torah forces us to confront the ills of our world and demands that after we close our books, we work to heal all life on Earth.
4. Study With Others
Avoid studying Torah alone. When we study with others, we learn how to work on a team towards a common goal of understanding the text.
We practice disagreeing respectfully and try out new techniques for proposing and defending our ideas.
Studying in small groups puts you in the driver’s seat of your own learning, with co-pilots to help you on your way.
Ultimately, studying Torah helps us to find a way to be in the world. Yes, I’d like my students to know who Moses and Miriam are. And yes, the Torah has some good lessons.
But most importantly, Torah’s study teaches us how to think and engage in the world.
Frequently Asked Questions
When it comes to questions like ‘’How To Study Torah’’, people ask different questions and I will be answering some below.
1. What language is the Torah read?
The Torah is written in Hebrew, the oldest of Jewish languages. It is also known as Torat Moshe, the Law of Moses.
The Torah is the first section or first five books of the Jewish bible. However, Tanach is more commonly used to describe the whole of the Jewish scriptures.
2. What is the person who reads the Torah called?
There are always at least three olim (people called to read the Torah) unless a Kohen is present and no Levite is present, in which case the Kohen is called for the first and second reading: Initially, the Torah was read on the Sabbath or special occasions by the king, a prophet, or a kohen.
3. What religion is the Torah from?
The Torah has central importance in Jewish life, ritual, and belief. Some Jews believe that Moses received the Torah from God at Mount Sinai, whilst others believe that the text was written over a long period by multiple authors
“Torah” literally means “teaching.” One of the greatest lessons the study Torah teaches us is that there are many interpretations and understandings of what is taught.
If Torah shapes our lives and guides our actions, we must realize that each of us experiences Torah differently.