Parashat B'ha'alotekha

Trying To Remember The Reason I Forgot

Being constantly engaged in learning allows us to guard against the pervasive forgetfulness around us.

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Midrash Kohelet Rabbah understood that point, insisting that, "It is for our own good that we learn Torah and forget it; because if we studied Torah and never forgot it, the people would struggle with learning it for two or three years, resume ordinary work, and never pay further attention to it. But since we study Torah and forget it, we don't abandon its study."

Here, the Rabbis make a virtue out of what might otherwise look like a universal shortcoming of human life. Even what we cherish, even what we spend hours poring over, trickles through the sieves of our minds, ultimately lost to us.

The corollary of this forgetfulness is the imperative to make learning a life-long process. Keeping a Jewish book by the side of the bed, enrolling in an adult-study program at the synagogue, seminary or university, learning Hebrew through cassettes, courses and books, all of these are ways not only of keeping our minds supple and our knowledge growing, but in fact provide the only possible antidote to the pervasive forgetfulness around us.

One of the laws of thermodynamics is the principle of entropy--that everything returns to chaos eventually. In the world of biology and physics, only the investment of new energy can counter the inevitable spread of disorder. True of the world of spirit as well, Judaism has made a cardinal mitzvah out of Talmud Torah, Jewish learning. Jews in study together, the Mishnah teaches us, experience in the process the presence of God. So go ahead; learn a little.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.