Alex Braver, over at the Sh’ma Blog, has written an excellent article on the opening Mishna in the Talmudic tractate, Brachot, titled: “From When Do We Recite Sh’ma in the Evening?: Finding a Talmudic Theory of Jewish Practice.” The title is based on the opening question posed in the Mishna about the proper recitation of the Shema.
Braver introduces the opening Mishna with some technical questions, notes the assumptions expected in Talmudic study, and then arrives at spiritual lessons one can learn from the technical discussion. This is an approach to Talmudic study I wish more Messianic Jews were able to experience and appreciate.
Over time I have been developing my own love and admiration for the intricate conversation of the Talmud, its details, and it development. It is a very difficult body of texts that requires a mastery of its nuances, language, and conversation before you can really begin to understand and appreciate it. One cannot just read a book about the Talmud. Yes … that is how many of us were first introduced to it. But like with anything, one must become acquainted with its technicalities to really understand it. The difficulty of Talmud study is that it is not like reading any other book. You cannot just pick it up and read it like a work of fiction. It is a method that must be learned. But when one does, it opens a new technical world.
Let me be clear that I am not claiming to have mastered learning Gemara. I am simply on a journey like many of you.
The Talmud is a collection of complex conversations between individuals and generations that was eventually codified over time. So it is in a way, like listening in and participating in any other sort of conversation. There are things you will agree with, things you will not, and others that will just challenge you! But the only way to understand it is to participate in the conversation! You must add your own voice to the dialog.
I encourage you to read Braver’s article. Hopefully you too will appreciate his interpretation and the spiritual lessons gleaned from the text. And my challenge to each one of us is to learn to swim in the conversation. To dig deeper and learn to truly appreciate the voices of our people embodied in the pages of Jewish texts, as Braver so nicely does in his blog post.