Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Mining the Depths of Torah Wisdom

Jews have been studying the Torah for thousands of years. Often, our knowledge of the Torah is limited to contemporary works. Now, thank God, we have at our fingertips translations of classic texts to help us mine the depths of Torah knowledge. Some of them are available from Jewish publishing houses and others can be accessed online.

Here are select Jewish teachings (some classic, some contemporary) that can be accessed for free online (there are many others available through Sefaria). These works mainly focus on elevating our behavior and strengthening our relationship with God. While some of the writing may be above our current level, it is inspirational to read how refined a person can become over a lifetime of spiritual development. Keeping our focus on the goal of how one should optimally act, we can move forward to higher and higher levels.

At different points in your life, different works may speak to you. Read at least a few pages from each of the works below and find at least one that resonates with you to begin studying on a regular basis.

1. Duties of the Heart by Rabbi Bachya ibn Pekuda. You can either study it from the beginning (the first gate is often not studied nowadays), or start with the following two gates and then study the other gates. The translation is by Rabbi Yosef Sebag.

The Gate of Trust can be found here.

For a version of this gate with commentary, click here:

The Gate of Introspection, especially the third chapter which lists 30 fundamental ideas to be aware of, can be found here.

For a version of this gate with commentary, click here:

2. The Path of the Just by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. You can either study it from the beginning, or start with Chapter 11, which covers key areas of conduct, and then go back and read this work from the beginning. The translation is by Rabbi Yosef Sebag.

Chapter 11 can be found here.

For a version of this chapter with commentary, click here:

3. Iggeret HaRamban. The ethical will the Ramban wrote to his son, where he encouraged his son to read it at least once a week. Many have the custom to do that. Link can be found here.

4. Mishle (Proverbs) with commentary by Reuven Brauner is available here.

5. Pirkei Avot with commentary, as well as the Orchot Chaim of the Rosh and a listing of the 613 mitzvot, compiled by Reuven Brauner is available here.

6. Orchot Chaim of the Rosh translated by Reuven Brauner. A wide ranging set of ethical instructions the Rosh wrote for his sons. Link can be found here.

7. Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh by Rabbi Itamar Schwartz. This is a modern classic available in English and can be found here. (To go to the next page, scroll to the bottom and then click on the link next to: “next in series.”)

8. Torah thoughts by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter. An article about him can be found here.

Articles by him translated into English can be found here and here.

9. Rebbe Nachman and You by Rabbi Chaim Kramer. This eBook on applying the wisdom of Rebbe Nachman is currently being offered for free from https://breslov.org, if you sign up to their newsletter. If this offer does not pop up when you visit their site, you can contact them directly. This book is also offered for sale in softcover on their site.

10. The Haftorah. A new flowing translation of the sections of the Prophets read on Shabbat, called the Haftorah, can be found in The Gutnick Edition Chumash, available free here. Aim to read these stirring words of the prophets each week, or read one Haftorah every day.

11. The Essential Rabbi Nachman. A free version of Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum’s book.

12.The Breslov App. An app with Breslov teachings for both Apple or Android phones:

For Apple click here.

For Android click here.

Foundational works:

Every Jewish home should have at least the following: A prayer book, Psalms, and The Five Books of Moses, preferably with the Prophets and Writings as well, all with a translation you understand. In addition, works on Jewish law.

The following publishers offer some or all of them: Artscroll, Feldheim, Koren Publishers, Kol Menachem and Breslov Research Institute, among others. Some offer online samples.

Every day, aim to say at least one passage of the daily prayers with understanding, as well as to read from Psalms, and to study from a work on Jewish law. Each day or on Shabbat, learn the weekly Torah portion and its Haftorah, so that you finish the Torah each year. If you are able, learn through the entire Tanach (which includes the Prophets and Writings), a little each day or on Shabbat.

In addition, daily or at least week, study something to which you are particularly drawn or curious about. It might be the Talmud, Ein Yaakov, the Chumash with a particular commentary (Rashi, Ramban, Midrash Rabbah, Ohr HaChaim, Rabbi Hirsch, Rabbi Elie Munk ect.), in depth Jewish law or Tanach, works on ethical development (such as the works mentioned earlier) or Chassidic thought (Likutey Moharan, Likutey Halachos, Tanya, Mei Hashiloach, Kedushas Levi, Pri Tzaddik, Nesivos Shalom etc.).

You can study alone from a book, listen to one of the many online classes or study with a partner. You can locate a study partner for free at https://www.partnersintorah.org.

The Torah is limitless. Keep exploring the sea of Torah and let its sweet waters quench your thirst.

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