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Rabbi's Message

R’ Bachya ben Yosef ibn Pekuda z”l (Spain; 11th century) lists 30 types of cheshbon ha’nefesh / accounting with one’s soul that a person must perform, the twenty-fourth of which is the following: “Reconsider everything you have known since your youth and the beginning of your education about G-d and His Torah, about the words of the earlier generations, about the riddles of the Sages, and about the prayers, for these subtle matters are not the same to one whose understanding is immature [i.e., a youth] as they are to one whose un- derstanding is mature.

“Therefore, do not be content with the images you have in your mind from the beginning of your studies. Rather, when your mind has matured you should begin again to study the Torah of Elokim and the books of the Prophets. [Learn them with a fresh perspective] like someone who is first learning to read, and accustom yourself to explain them, to elaborate upon their allusions, and to look carefully at their wording and phraseology. Also, recognize which state- ments are meant to be understood straightforwardly (peshat), and which are not meant to be understood that way… If you do this, you will see the secrets of the Torah and the secrets of the Prophets and Sages in way that is impossi- ble if you continue to learn the way you learned as a child.” (Chovot Ha’le- vavot: Sha’ar Cheshbon Ha’nefesh ch.3)

R’ Isaac Sher z”l (1875-1952; Rosh Yeshiva of the Slobodka Yeshiva in Lithuania and Bnei Brak) applies these words studying the Book of Bereishit. He writes: A person learns Sefer Bereishit as a child and grasps what he learned on a child- ish level. This forms his understanding of the Patriarchs and their deeds. The typical person does not thereafter reexamine his understanding of these “stories” as the years pass.

He continues: As a result, we are unable with our limited perspective to under- stand the Torah’s stories and to learn about the deeds of the Patriarchs. We do not appreciate their depth. Worse yet, some of the deeds of the Patriarchs appear to us to have been sins, and we have the nerve to say, “After all, there is no tzaddik who is perfect.” This is wrong! Rather, we are obligated to say, “When will my deeds reach the level of the Patriarchs’ deeds?!”

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