There are two classical models for how one acquires knowledge. In one paradigm, the sages instruct us to regard Moses as our teacher – Moses, who received Torah from Sinai and transmitted Torah to Joshua. This established a chain of transmission from Joshua to the Prophets, the Prophets to the Elders, and then the Elders to the Men of the Great Assembly. From the Men of the Great Assembly, Torah is transmitted to the ancient “pairs” of sages forming the earliest generations of rabbinic instruction. This paradigm of transmitting Torah from Sinai is described in more curricular detail in the Babylonian Talmud in Eruvin. There, the Talmud asks, “How was Mishna organized?” and the sages teach us that God transmitted Torah to Moses in the Mishkan, the sacred Tabernacle, and then Moses taught his brother Aaron “his portion” of Torah, and then to Aaron’s sons “their portions,” and then the Elders “their portions,” while everyone listened and heard each other’s teachings. In that way, explains the Talmud, the entire Jewish people acquired knowledge of Torah as it was transmitted through processes of oral repetition.
There is another paradigm, however. The Sages noted that God chose Avraham to follow the pathway of the Divine because of his deep faith and commitment. They wondered, though, that such faith is the essence of the Torah itself, and “How did our Patriarch, Avraham, know the Torah before the revelation at Mt. Sinai?” Avraham knew Torah, they answered, because God implanted two large kidneys inside of Avraham, providing him with the capacity for Torah knowledge to flow through him. In a parallel midrashic tradition, the Sages surmise that those kidneys “served like two sages, nourishing Avraham with knowledge of Torah the way that milk and honey nourish a person.”
In other words, while Moses acquired Torah knowledge from a transcendent God outside of him, Avraham’s Torah-knowledge flowed from inside of him, outwards. Torah enables us to reach God when distant, as well as feel nourished by the divine spark deep inside of us.
These two paradigms for acquiring knowledge reflect the educational philosophy for rabbinic education at YCT. People need to access ways of understanding and appreciating Torah in the context of their life experiences from the outside, as well as in response to their inner lives, their feelings, moods, qualities of character—coming from their heart on the inside.
Humanity in the 21st century requires both orientations, both paradigms for acquiring knowledge. People are delicate, fragile, vulnerable beings. We are also complex, deep, and yearning for meaning. The worlds we inhabit are socially, politically, economically, and culturally fragmented. In a fragmented world, people sense that our love of God, of Torah, of our people, of the land of Israel, should somehow enable us to share in a common humanity. Yet, the world is filled with hatred, loneliness, pain, violence, suffering, and alienation. The response to this world is to build lives of meaning for individuals, families and communities. People need their inner and outer lives to cohere so that they feel whole. We sense that somehow, deep down, life should feel coherent, that our lives should have purpose. Our religious tradition offers us the knowledge and wisdom to cultivate this response by teaching Torah, by inspiring people to learn and acquire the knowledge that Torah learning can offer.
YCT—our Rabbanim, our teachers, and our students—are all dedicated to learning and teaching Torah in ways that integrate heart and mind, body and soul, inner and outer realities. Our curriculum and its applied pedagogies balance Torah learning, pastoral training, and practical rabbinic skill. This balance seeks both to transmit mesorah (teachings of sacred texts for analysis and halakhic norms) according to the paradigm of Moshe Rabbeinu, as well as to inspire the flow of creative energy according to the paradigm of Avraham Aveinu. It is our privilege at YCT to wake up every day and do the work of the Creator: through the right combination of Talmud Torah, pastoral teaching and applied rabbinics in all life-cycle moments, we seek to transmit and inspire, and thereby train cohorts of rabbis to confront and respond to the daunting tasks of the 21st century.
Rabbi Dov Lerea