The following story appeared in Rabbi Frand’s parsha archives: http://torah.org/learning/ravfrand/5758/vayikra.html
I will tell you over a story that I heard from a prominent individual who works in Jewish Outreach.
When he was he was newly married, and studying at a Rabbinic seminary in Israel, he couldn’t afford an apartment in the desirable sections of Jerusalem. Therefore he bought one in what was then an outlying section, in a building where he was the only observant, religious Jews. All of the other residents were Israelis who were not religious. He went over to them and started building relationships. He invited every one of them to come once a week to his apartment to learn. After trying, he finally got several to come to learn, but he had not picked a topic.
What would he learn with non-religious Israelis? In a certain sense non-religious Israelis are even more removed from Judaism, and have more negative attitudes towards Jewish learning, than unaffiliated Jews in America. So he deliberated his options: something philosophical, like Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed, or a work which discusses the Jewish faith in comparison to others, like the Kuzari… he didn’t know what he was going to learn.
He went to morning prayers and there, as Hashgocha (Divine Providence) would have it, he met the famous Uri Zohar. Uri Zohar was Israel’s foremost entertainer: comedian, television game-show and radio talk-show host, social satirist, movie star, and film producer, and an icon of modern Israeli secular society. Then, in the midst of his career, he turned towards religion, eventually becoming fully observant. [For more information, read Waking Up Jewish by Uri Zohar, which is available through Genesis Judaica.]
He asked Uri Zohar what he should learn with these neighbors. R’ Uri asked him, “What are you learning in Yeshiva?” The Rabbi responded that he was learning Bava Kamma. Uri Zohar told him “Learn with them tractate Bava Kamma”.
The Rabbi looked at him incredulously and said “Bava Kamma? The ox that gores a cow; The Pit; The Ox; Fire that damages?… This will turn people on to Judaism?”
To which Uri Zohar responded “My dear friend, you don’t believe in Torah! If you can question and doubt that learning with them tractate Bava Kamma is going to bring them back — then you don’t fully believe and appreciate the power of Torah.”
Learn pure, unadulterated, “the Four Major Types of Damages” (Arba avos nezikin). You do not need to learn philosophical works such as Kuzari and Moreh Nevuchim. Learn about the Ox that gores the cow. It does something to the soul. It is mystical. It is magical. It is the nourishment that the soul thirsts for, and a teacher needs nothing more.
To this day, what does the Rabbi learn with beginning adult students? Tractate Bava Kamma.
That is what this Medrash says about Aharon. He returned sinners to Torah study. The power of Torah will prevail.
Ad kann l’shono (end of his story).
I am afraid that I share the same doubts with the Rabbi in this story. Having grown up on the Talmud since grade school, I don’t have the perspective of being exposed to it for the first time as a thinking, questioning adult, and it does surprise me to hear that learning “Arba Avos Nezikin” as someone’s first exposure to learning Torah would stir their soul. This represents a significant paradigm shift for me. So I would love to hear corroboration, comments or otherwise from those coming from a different perspective than me.
Originally published on Feb 19, 2009