Moses commanded the people: “Pay attention and listen!” (Deut. 27:9)
The word has-keit — “pay attention” — is unusual. The Talmud gives the following homiletic interpretation:
|“Form groups (asu kittot) and study Torah; for Torah knowledge is only acquired through group study.” (Berachot 63b)|
Rabbi Yossi went even further. He warned that scholars who study alone are liable to acquire three negative traits: intolerance, ignorance, and sin.
What is so terrible about studying by oneself?
This question may be addressed both on a practical level, and in terms of the essential nature of Torah study.
There are three practical benefits when scholars study together. The first advantage is that they become accustomed to hearing opinions different than their own. This trains them for greater openness and tolerance. Scholars who study by themselves are not exposed to their colleagues’ views and ideas. They grow to be intolerant of any opinion that differs from their own interpretation. This intolerance is a major factor in disputes, and can lead to verbal and even physical violence.
Secondly, scholars who study alone or in small groups will not succeed in properly analyzing matters of faith and fundamental Torah views. In terms of these basic subjects, such reclusive scholars remain ignorant and misinformed.
And finally, a lack of clarity in legal issues will cause those who study by themselves to err in Halachic decisions. As teachers and leaders, these scholars are judged according to their negative impact on the people. Furthermore, their solitude may lead to unnecessary stringencies, which are referred to as ’sinful,’ as in the case of the Nazarite.
On a fundamental level, there is a contradiction between a Torah lifestyle and a life of reclusiveness and rejection of the world. The Torah is a Torat chaim, a Torah of life. It values those proper enjoyments which enrich life and bestow happiness. By its very nature, the Torah and its mitzvot require a framework of social and communal living. This approach leads to a healthy society, and an appreciation for friendship and camaraderie.
The pursuit of solitude and isolation from society — which many mistakenly think leads to closeness to God — is alien to the Torah’s viewpoint. This outlook is so contrary to the Torah, that even the acquisition of Torah knowledge may not be properly accomplished by solitary study.
(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, pp. 389-390)