Pirke Avot 4:6

Rabbi Yishmael bar Rabbi Yose said:

One who studies Torah in order to teach is given the means to study and to teach; 

One who studies Torah in order to practice is given the means to study and to teach, to observe and to practice.

bible study


At the simplest level this wisdom may be saying that, along with Steven Covey, we ought to begin with the end in mind.  What we intend to do with the knowledge we acquire when we study will shape what we actually learn.  What we actually learn will clearly affect what we will do with our knowledge.

studying in order to teach: There are certain branches of Torah study in which one might become a particular expert even though one is not called to be practically active in that branch of knowledge.  One example might be the study of Temple sacrificial regulations and practices – even though there is no Temple today.  All are expected to apply all applicable Torah knowledge to one’s own life!

A thought: if we cannot explain something in simple terms such that almost anyone can understand it – then we don’t understand it well enough!

studying in order to practice – resulting in the means to study and to teach, to observe and to practice.   At the easiest to understand level we teach others best through our practice!  If we have studied, especially the most practical branches of Torah, in order to practice them well – we will always be in a position to teach others – even if we are not formally teaching.  Beyond that idea: constant practice of our religious knowledge gives us a wealth of examples to use in the classroom setting if we end up there, as well as a broad understanding of “where real people are coming from”!

How do we apply this today?  And in Christian / Catholic settings as well?  Since I teach in a parish setting and no longer in a university I am continually thinking about why people come to my “classes”.  To study the Bible only for intellectual  knowledge?  Or to study in order to answer some deep life questions?  Or to study in order to be more fully shaped in faith?  What they want from me shapes what I offer and how I offer it.  We can’t / shouldn’t make assumptions as to what people are seeking!