Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Talmud set is complete -- returning to the beginning

I recently picked up the final volumes of the 73-volume Artscroll Schottenstein English Edition Talmud Bavli from my mother's house in the US. Since I live in Switzerland and with the increase in shipping costs from Artscroll's European distributer, I have usually had volumes sent to my Mom and then picked them up during my bi-annual visits.

I had been slowly adding tractates for about three years and am finally finished, which in many ways is clearly both anend and a beginning. Rather mystically, this would have been the last time I could pick books up at my Mom's, since she actually passed away in April at the wonderful age of 88 and having lived what she often called "a wonderful life." So, when I was in town for the funeral I was able to complete my Bavli. I had placed my final order in December, never knowing what would follow.

For me completing this set and finally having the whole sea of the Talmud to swim in gave me the idea to return to one of the earliest posts in this blog. In it I share the 11 points that at the time I wrote about concerning why I was studying the Talmud. I wanted to see what I thought of them now after a little over three years of exploration.

Here is what I wrote:

I find the Talmud:

  1. a work of unimaginable dedication and commitment to God.
  2. a work focused on the particular day-to-day, moment-to-moment elements that make up life (obviously also many moments that don't make up my life -- temple sacrifices, etc.). It truly seems to avoid abstraction and focus on the particular.
  3. a work that accepts discord and multi-valent views of the world.
  4. a work that is basically INFINITE in its scope and depth and diversity.
  5. a work that stimulates intense interest today and has for 1500 years.
  6. a work that connects to the past and holds within it the explanations and explorations of God's will that have continued for over 2000 years.
  7. a work that can help me focus on and recognize the ever-present nature of God.
  8. a work of great creativity and imagination that can help stretch my mind.
  9. a work of which the study is a holy possibility and opportunity.
  10. a work that screams, shouts, contemplates and argues this basic fact -- "We are commanded!" This is something I deeply believe.
  11. a work large enough (a true sea) to welcome even an outsider in, who simply wants to enter and learn out of love
In looking at these points after three years, I think they are all still valid. Though, one additional point that I would add now is the importance and centrality of creativity and chiddushim to Talmud Torah. And it is this encouragement of creativity that I truly find so inspiring and challenging, and which Rabbi Rosensweig writes about in the article, "Personal Initiative In Avodat Hashem," from the Torah u-Madda Journal. I hope to post on this article soon.

Over this time, I have, I must admit, frequently lost the drive and push to continue my study. At times, it seems too irrelevant to me, too caught up in details on issues don't touch my life, too much work, etc.

But I return again and again, I recently began again to listen to the daily Daf Yomi talks from CD Shas and still try to listen to Rav Rosensweig's classes as often as possible.

As the Bavli warns, studying alone is not easy, though I don't feel completely alone since the wonderful YU Torah resource provides so many shiurim.

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