People of the Book

The Jewish people are often called the “People of the Book,” with the “book” obviously referring to the Torah, the first and most read book in all of history. Before reading and studying texts were commonplace, before the printing press was invented, our ancestors had been delving into the words of the Torah, analyzing and dissecting every letter and nuance within it. We have been doing this for centuries and the extent to which we go to understand it can put almost any academic to shame.

Believe it or not, our ancestors have been studying Torah even before the Torah itself was written.

Wait, what?

Yes, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and even Noah, his son Shem and great-grandson Eber—all studied and delved into G-d’s wisdom without the luxury of written texts. They spent their days immersed in secrets shared only with a select few, centuries before the actual Torah was written and given to their descendants following the exodus from Egypt. That was their primary occupation.

In describing the birth of the twins Jacob and Esau to Isaac and Rebecca, the Torah says that their differences were immediately apparent. But it became even more clear that they would lead extremely different lives once they came of age. Esau is described as being a successful hunter, while Jacob was “a simple man, a tent dweller.”

The “tent” Jacob dwelled in was the first yeshiva—Talmudic academy. It was run at the time by Shem and Eber, and Jacob spent days on end there soaking in the Torah teachings imparted by his teachers. They shared with him the G-dly wisdom taught to them by their teachers, and Jacob in turn passed this wisdom on to his children.

When our ancestors received the Torah from G-d at Mt. Sinai, they were given complete access to this divine work; and more than that—we were given permission to make the Torah our own, to develop the Torah and apply it to our contemporary lives in every generation. No matter what a person might be going through, Torah can be used to guide him and show him a divinely ordained solution. When a Jew studies Torah his life becomes illuminated with a divine light that is to be found within Torah.

Torah is not just a book of stories and laws, of do’s and don’ts; Torah is a guidebook providing us with direction for every part of our lives. We don’t study Torah as an academic pursuit, we study Torah because of its centrality to our survival. A Jew needs Torah to survive in this world just like a fish needs water. So the more we study it and the more we make it part of our lives, the more connected we become with G-d, the origin of this wisdom.

You don’t need to be a great scholar to study Torah, and you don’t need to spend your entire day studying. Even if it’s half an hour a day, or twice a day, you can connect with this divine wisdom given to us as a gift from G-d. You can study alone or with a group. You can study from books or from websites, videos, and podcasts. Torah today is at its most accessible point ever, just waiting for you to jump in. It’s rightfully yours, all you need to do is claim it as a member of the “People of the Book.”

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