The Primacy of Torah Study

(The following is an extract of an essay by Rav Aharon Kotler zt'l, offering insight into the forces which motivated him in the establishment of Beth Medrash Govoha.)

"Torah is the life-breath of the Jewish people, the goal of Jewish existence, its purpose and its destiny. Jewry stands, or falls, in the measure of its devotion to Torah study. It is the dedication of the Torah scholars to their studies which provides the lifeblood of Jewish existence even to those limbs, which are far from the heart.

The connection between Jewish continuity and dedication to Torah study is made by the Torah itself in numerous places [see for instance Chumosh Vayikro Chapter 26, 3-15 and Rashi on verse 15 who explains, that if you will not exert yourself in Torah you will progressively fall level after level till you abandon Torah in belief and in practice altogether G-d forbid.] Our history has also borne this out. We have seen time and again that in those countries where Torah study was neglected, commitment to Torah living itself weakened more and more leading eventually to actual assimilation, G-d forbid. [If at times non-observant individuals or groups have maintained some connection to the Jewish nation, it is because there is still genuine Torah study in Klal Yisroel today and because there is a residue of the effect of the Torah study of earlier generations.]

"The perpetuation of our Jewish people depends on the development and growth of authentic Torah scholars. It is they who transmit our spiritual heritage from generation to generation and assure the authenticity of our Torah as it was revealed on Sinai. In the absence of such scholars, Torah becomes adulterated, and its spirit as well as its essence is compromised. In the absence of Torah scholars, Jewry lacks the great teachers who are the links in the great chain of Tradition, spanning the ages. It lacks inspired and committed educators who understand and appreciate G-d's Torah for what it truly is and who can transmit Torah to future generations in all its purity, wholeness and perfection. And, it lacks those who can intuitively articulate the unique wisdom and insights of Torah and make them relevant and available to Jewish youth.

"There is only one way to produce such Torah leaders, through focusing all the powers of one's will and intellectual capacities on Torah learning. Without this total submission to Torah learning, without fundamental "lomdus", toil and perseverance, it cannot take root in the individual's soul, cannot change his being and become part of his essence -- and this is the form and the being of a true Talmid Chacham. Submission to in-depth Torah learning is also the only way to arrive at an appreciation of the truth of the written and oral Torah and to understand Jewish history, down to the [traumatic] events of our era, in its light.

"There are two major factors in our time which mitigate such devotion to the scholarly life. The primary stumbling block is the materialistic and "practical" fabric of contemporary society and the concomitant undisciplined impatient and suffocating drive for material pursuits, to the exclusion of man's deep spiritual needs.

"A second factor is linked, in error, to the phenomenal explosion of general human knowledge, the illusions this has created, and a distorted image of the relationship of this new knowledge and these sophisticated skills to the axioms of Torah.

"In this generation, following the destruction of European Jewry, the lofty task of rebuilding what was destroyed and replanting the wasteland has been placed upon American Jewry, they are the ones who must create a climate of devotion to Torah tradition, and of single-minded dedication to Torah learning. Only in such a spiritual atmosphere can we raise a new generation of Talmidei Chachamim, of Torah scholars, whole in Torah and in spirit, without whom we cannot survive as a people."

(based partially on the extract in: "The Birth of A New Torah World")