By Rabbi Chaim Bruk
Sefer Bamidbar is referred to as the “Book of Numbers,” based on the Talmudic reference to the fourth book of the Torah as “Sefer HaPekudim, but the translation of “Bamidbar” actually means “in the desert.” The Rebbe, of blessed memory, always emphasized that the Torah was given specifically in the desert so that no Jew should ever claim superiority or ownership of Torah. In a world surrounded by Midianites, Emorites, Canaanites, Amalekites, and so many other nations, the Sinai desert was barren and ownerless, and it is there that Hashem chose to give us His Torah.
So often we hear various groups, associated with particular styles of Torah learning, claiming dominance over the Torah’s preferred form of study. Though the Talmud says “Nahara nahara upashtei — every river has its own course,” somehow many Jews think it’s their Torah way or the highway.
Who has it right? Is it the Brisker style or the Lubavitch style? Should yeshiva students learn l’iyun (qualitative study, less pages and more depth) or l’girsa (quantitative study, more pages with less depth)? Should girls’ schools only study pshat, the basic understanding of the biblical verses, or enjoy the remez (allegorical), derush (homiletical), and sod (mystical) as well, incorporating all four levels of Pardeis? Is daf yomi, studying a daily page of the Babylonian Talmud, the right thing to do, following Rav Meir Shapiro’s instruction, or is studying daily Yerushalmi, like the Gerer Chassidim do, the correct path? Or maybe it’s neither and it’s the revolution of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the 1980s to study three chapters of the daily mitzvos of the Rambam (Maimonides), which is studied by countless people the world over, that should be adhered to?
I do believe that the Lubavitcher style of learning instituted by the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rav Sholom Dovber (The Rebbe Rashab), in 1898 is the most healthy and balanced approach to learning. It includes in-depth analysis and learning that covers a lot of ground, it emphasizes the study of Jewish law and halachic wisdom, and chassidus for character refinement and knowledge of G-d is a must in the daily study routine. In addition, we study Rambam (as mentioned above) and we learn Chitas (the daily portion of the weekly Torah portion as divided by the seven aliyot, daily dose of Tanya, and the daily section of Tehillim as divided by the days of the month). We do our thing, we do it well, and we believe it’s correct, but does that mean that everyone else is wrong? Can’t we all be right in the realm of holiness?
The Brisker Rav had a great relationship with various Chabad Rebbes; the previous Rebbe, Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, admired my great-grandfather Reb Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld; and the Rebbe corresponded lovingly and deeply with Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, the Rogatchover, Rav Pinchas Hirschprung, and so many other incredible gedolim. Did they not recognize that they see the world differently? Of course, they did! Yet, Torah’s beauty is that we each bring our own understanding, our unique approach, and our Divine attributes to the table.
I am a chassid, or at least try to be, and I love my Rebbe with heart and soul. I adore the style of our chassidus, I devour every word of sweetness shared by the Rebbe during his lifetime, but I enjoy studying other gedolim’s teachings. Truth be told, if I strive to love Torah as much the Rebbe did, then no gadol, no style, no approach is off-limits. A Meshech Chochmah, a vort from the Chofetz Chaim, a “mehalech” (approach) of Reb Chaim Ozer, a teshuvah (responsum) from Reb Ovadia Yosef, a vertel from my great-grandfather the Chiddushei HaRim, is all delicious. This is what King David meant when he wrote in Tehillim, “How I love Your Torah! All day it is my conversation!” It is sweet like sugar.
You may be a Sephardic Jew, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the profundity of the Maharal of Prague or a Kotzker inspiration. You may be an Ashkenazic Jew, but the writings of the Ben Ish Chai of Baghdad and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu should still be at your fingertips and in your library. You may be a talmid of Mir, but that doesn’t mean Tanya shouldn’t guide you during your spiritual struggles. You may be a Belzer chassid, but that doesn’t mean that Chovos HaLevavos shouldn’t boost your bitachon in G-d during times of depression.
We must open our minds and hearts to all facets of Torah, not because we need to impress upon others that we are diverse and open-minded, but simply because we don’t want to lose out on the incredible scope of Jewish scholarship from unbelievable talmidei chachamim and gaonim who have given us so much through their sweat, toil, and blood as they devoted themselves to keeping Torah elucidation alive.
The Rebbe has hundreds of volumes of Torah expositions and illumination on every subject of Torah. It would be a crime for people to deny themselves engagement in this Torah brilliance because they may not agree with everything about Lubavitch theology, or for me to withhold from studying Teshuvos Divrei Yoel of Reb Yoel of Satmar because Lubavitch and Satmar don’t always see eye to eye.
Last summer, we hosted hundreds of Jewish tourists from around the world, as we do each year. It was Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos after Tishah B’Av, and I walked into our Bozeman shul about an hour before Minchah. I saw a sight that has never left me since. Ten or eleven men were sitting in our small shul, each studying a different tractate of Talmud, section of Shulchan Aruch, chapter in Rambam, and one even studying Mussar. It inspired me to the vastness of Torah and to the importance of our collective devotion to “Shivim panim laTorah,” the 70 ways to delve into and understand chochmaso shel HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Hashem’s wisdom imbued in His Torah.
Torah iz dee beste sechorah; shall I translate?
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, email email@example.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.