Learning Torah and Eating Food: The Three Stages
By Larry Fine
Learning Torah is compared to food in Psalms (40:9) "your law within my stomach". Besides giving strength to those who partake of it, there is another facet to this analogy; food and Torah have in common the methodology in which it is consumed.
There are three stages in the consumption of food. Food before it is consumed must be prepared. Food consumed without the proper preparation is nearly worthless. Imagine eating raw wheat as opposed to wheat that is properly harvested, dried, ground and then mixed with water and then baked in an oven as bread. The benefits of bread are much greater than that of eating raw wheat.
The same is true of meat. Can a person just take a bite out of an animal? First the animal must be slaughtered in a proper fashion, checked for its kashrut, then butchered into eatable portions and then cooked. Meat eaten in such a manner is so much healthier after it has been properly prepared.
Torah, too, must be properly prepared. Before Torah can be analyzed it must be prepared by learning as much about the subject as possible. Without developing a cohesive peripheral understanding of the Torah subject matter it is impossible to properly delve into the depths of the Torah.
But just studying on a peripheral level and stopping at this point leaves much to be desired. Just like preparing a meal is considered an art, still without the actual consumption of the meal, much is lost. There is little value in a meal if no one eats it. The same is true of Torah; just studying on a superficial level will not bring gain to the learner. Both food and Torah require a second and more advanced processing.
Food that has been properly prepared needs the actual physical act of consumption of the food. This means putting the food in the mouth and chewing it. With out the proper chewing of the food it is difficult for the stomach to break down the food into the components necessary to benefit the body. Similarly, Torah after it has been properly prepared, it then requires proper analysis; this is the mental chewing process where one aspect is compared to the other aspect to see why it is different or what possible reasons for this law that makes it different from the others. With out the proper analysis of the Torah there is little chance that the Torah will reach the last, final and most important part of these stages.
After completion of the first two stages of food, preparation and consumption, the food enters into the stomach and into the digestive system. This is a system that can not be seen and rarely felt. It is during this stage that the food, if properly prepared and properly consumed is now digested and assimilated into the body. The food does not just assimilate into the body and used by the body, the food becomes the body.
Torah also, if the first two processes, preparation and analysis, have been correct now comes to the final and most important stage: assimilation into the person. For Torah study to properly benefit the learner it must become part of the person who learns it. It is just not enough for a person who eats a meal to enjoy it (only to have it removed from his stomach before it is assimilated into the body); the food must be assimilated into the body. Similarly Torah must be assimilated into the person and not just memorized and external data but rather it must become become part of the learner's being.
But what is the 'digestive' process for assimilating the Torah into the body of the learner? After the Torah has be prepared and learnt, meaning properly analyzed it must be internalized and assimilated into the person's personality and being. This is done through a process of thinking about the lesson that has been learnt with out the aid of text. It could be done while resting or waiting for a bus when the mind is free.
It requires little other than mentally going over the lesson to see how it related to and fits into the life style of the learner. What is the message of the lesson that 'lies under the covers'? Each teaching in Torah comes to teach many things about living life properly but in order to extract it, it takes a bit of personal contemplation on the deeper meaning of what has been learnt.
Each person has this ability. It requires no new tools, rather just the desire to re-analyze the matter in a more personal light.
from the June 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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