While much of Orot HaTorah, a collection of Rav Kook’s thoughts on Torah study, discusses philosophical matters, the book also contains a number of practical lessons on studying Torah.
Below are seven pieces of advice for budding Torah scholars.
In a letter to his son, Rav Kook wrote:
“Do not belittle the importance of a daily study session of Talmud and its major commentaries. This is a holy service, over which the greatest scholars of Israel toiled throughout the generations.”
Writing to his younger brother, he noted:
“I have never met a truly great Torah scholar except those who devoted their principal efforts in the study of Talmud and Rishonim, learning and reviewing them in their proper order.”
In a letter to his son, he suggested:
“It is advisable to make a habit of writing down a summary of each Talmudic topic, together with the various opinions, even if you do not add any original thoughts of your own. And you should certainly record any new insights and explanations that come to you.”
Rav Kook wrote to his younger brother, R. Shmuel Kook:
“I was quite alarmed when I realized that you only review your Talmudic studies three times. I know from personal experience that it is impossible to attain mastery of Talmud with only three reviews. I implore you to accustom yourself to review each chapter of Talmud at least ten times before starting the next one.”
“You should undertake to learn the entire Alfasi Code (הלכות רב אלפס) on a simple level, with competent proficiency. This goal is not difficult to accomplish if you follow a set study schedule. It does not even require a demanding pace.
The labor of studying the Alfasi Code is very pleasant in and of itself. It is also rewarding, due to the gratifying feeling that this approximates the goal of mastering the entire body of Halakhah, while using a medium that is as close as possible to the original Talmudic text. It is only when we encompass all of the details that we are able to truly observe and appreciate the striking beauty of the magnificent structure of Halakhah as a whole.”
“Spiritual Torah subjects, in all of their width, depth, and breadth, must also have a place in the yeshiva curriculum. Aggadah and Midrash, both exoteric and esoteric, works of philosophy and theoretical Kabbalah, ethical tracts, Jewish thought, Hebrew grammar, piyyut, and poetry... are also fundamental areas of Torah study.
While these are not the primary topics of study, it is inconceivable to preclude them for securing a pivotal role in the curriculum, especially in our generation.”
“Each person should engage in his own field, in the occupation where one feels most adept. This principle is especially true with regard to Torah study. Even though circumstances may make it difficult to keep to the area that interests you, you should be resolute and not abandon the particular area of study that cultivates your spirit. Do not yield to social pressures to limit your study to those fields of Torah that society honors [such as Halakhah or Talmud], if your interests lie in other areas of Torah.”
(Orot HaTorah, chapters 9 and 14)
Illustration image: ‘The Torah Scribe’ (Maurycy Gottlieb, 1876)