Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Gemara
Our friend ASJ has been asking me to share my struggles with Gemara, so I finally gave in.
There's no question that Gemara is the primary limud haTorah. From Gemara we understand more than the halachaic nitty-gritty with assorted anecdotes. Gemara contains the thinking of Chazal, who are basically the founding fathers of our Torah Shebaal Peh, and our Yiddishkeit. There we are taught how to think, we are taught the structure of Torah, and we are able to connect our thoughts with thousands of years of Jewish thinking. The Gemara contains great secrets, often hidden in the aggateda, as Chazal reveal an inch but conceal miles. In truth, Gemara is the ikkur limud haTorah for Klal Yisroel throughout the history of our galus.
Moreover, Gemara, Torah Sh'Baal Peh, is the other – equally essential - half of Tanach, and was equally given to Moshe at Sinai. Our learning Gemara connects us all the way back. Without it, it would be impossible to understand Torah correctly, as much of our understanding of Torah is only hinted at – or not even mentioned all – in Torah Sh'biksav and is only explained in Shas. In Tanya, R' Schneur Zalman of Liadi states that the Talmud is a manifestation of G-d's will, even higher than the level of Chochma (wisdom). By studying Gemara a person's mind becomes one with G-d's will in a perfect unity, making the person's mind G-dly.
What can be greater than that?
But then there are the facts on the ground. I don't feel it. I learn Gemara every day, and I've done so for years, but I usually walk away feeling somewhat empty. Sometimes I am inspired by an insight into Chumash or Navi, or a piece of aggadeta, but it's not every day, and it's not really what Gemara is anyway – technically, if I wanted those things, I could just learn Tanach with miforshim and Ein Yaakov. So, I do it day after day, and often wonder if I am getting anything out of it. Is there not a better use of that time? Am I being foolish learning something that doesn't speak to me, when I could be learning something that does? I feel like a guy that got invited to the greatest event in history, but after driving around in circles, I just can't find the entrance.
Sometimes, I feel guilty about it, other times I feel foolish in persisting. I know that I'd rather be learning Chumash or Tanach in depth – that's something I really enjoy! But, on the other hand, I know that this was a matter of great dispute between the maskilim and the chareidim of old… Tanach or Shas? The Maskilim said Tanach, the Tzaddikim said Shas. The Yorei Shomaim wanted us to spend our days with Chazal, learning Gemara. But maybe things are different today? Maybe because my Gemara skills aren't great, or because I'm a working man without the time for real in-depth Gemara study, the rules are different? I don't know, but my chavrusa won't let me change the seder anyway – so I continue, tomorrow morning I'll open up to Eiruvin, daf lamed...