blackwork embroidery design by Rachel Braun, 2020
Torah is acquired in 48 ways: by audible study, by diligent attention, by proper speech, by an understanding heart, by a perceptive heart, by awe, by fear, by humility, by joy, by attendance upon sages, by critical give and take with fellows, by acute exchanges among disciples, by clear thinking, by study of scripture, by study of Mishnah, by a minimum of sleep, by a minimum of chatter, by a minimum of pleasure, by a minimum of frivolity, by a minimum preoccupation with worldly affairs, by long-suffering, by generosity, by faith in the sages, by acceptance of suffering, (by the one) who knows one’s place, who is content with one’s portion, who makes a hedge around one’s words, who takes no credit to oneself, who is beloved, who loves God, loves humanity, loves acts of charity, loves reproof, loves rectitude, keeps far from honors, is not puffed up with one’s learning, does not delight in handing down decisions, bears the yoke along with one’s companion, judges one’s fellow with generous scales, leads one’s companion to truth, concentrates on study, is capable of intellectual give and take, is capable of adding to one’s learning, studies in order to teach, and studies in order to practice, makes one’s teacher wiser, is exact in one’s learning, and quotes one’s source. Pirkei Avot 6:6
From a dvar Torah at Fabrangen services, Shavuot/Shabbat 5/30/2020:
As we approach Shavuot and the chanting of the book of Ruth, I wonder: how did she acquire Torah?
Ruth’s promise to Naomi: wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God (Ruth 1:16) is a statement of love, loyalty, duty, and attachment that steer her to the Jewish people. Her words present a path of widening commitment – to Naomi, to Naomi’s household, to Naomi’s people, and to God. While not directly named, somewhere in this hierarchy is Torah.
For Ruth, the acquisition of Torah laws — of gleaning and levirate marriage — is observational and experiential, and the path is animated by elders and peers. In Chapter 2, she appeals to Naomi to let her glean in the fields “behind someone who may show me kindness” (2:2). Boaz further instructs her to “stay here close to my girls (already reaping in his fields), keep your eyes on the field they are reaping, and follow them” (2:8-9). Naomi advises Ruth in the practice of the redeeming kinsman.
What has been your path to kinyan Torah, acquiring Torah? And as we approach yizkor, the memorial prayer recited on Shavuot and other festivals, what do you remember about the ways our peers and elders directed us to Torah?
The design of the embroidery interprets the quoted baraita, Pirkei Avot 6:6. Each of the distinct attributes for acquiring Torah is surrounded by its own blackwork embroidery pattern, and all are set into an open Torah scroll.
I designed 48 Ways in memory of my teachers, Esther and Max Ticktin, zikhronoteihem livrakha. Their ways included generosity, rectitude, courage, lovingkindness, patience, humor, and love of humanity. The Hebrew text and modified English translation follow the Vilna edition provided by Judah Goldin in The Wisdom of the Fathers (Heritage Press, New York, 1957). Translations of Ruth are from The Five Megillot and Jonah, Jewish Publication Society, 1969.
The embroidery was generously photographed by Philip Brookman. I was inspired by my conversation with Amy Brookman and by her soulful chanting of verse 2:9 to consider the impact of the community of gleaners on Ruth’s acquisition of Torah. In addition to kinyan Torah, we are told “kenei lekha haver” (Pirkei Avot 1:6): acquire for yourself a friend/companion. I am grateful to Philip and Amy for their friendship, insights, and support.