Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion said: If two sit together and no words of Torah are interchanged between them, theirs is the session of the scornful, as it is written (Psalm 1:1) “Nor sit in the seat of scoffers.” But when two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence rests between them, as it is written (Malachi 3:16) “Then those who revered the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name.” (m.Avot 3:3)
Some will scoff at Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion’s directive and say that he is an extremist. They will claim that his expectations are unrealistic. They believe that conversations like Rabbi Chananiah suggest are the tell-tale signs of a religious fanatic. However, conversations along these lines should probably be the norm for followers of Yeshua, rather than the extreme. And it may be easier than one may think. Here is why.
It is easy to peer inside a person’s heart. Just listen to the topics of their conversations. What do they normally talk about? Yeshua said, “Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). If a person’s conversations always gravitate towards a particular topic, then that is what fills his heart. Our conversations naturally echo our hearts. The words of Rabbi Chananiah are a constant reminder to examine our conversations in order to truly know what is in our hearts, and begin steering our conversations in the proper direction.
It is not a difficult thing for most people to talk for any length of time on sports, movies, or any number of activities that compete for our mental capacity. It is part of our fleshly instinct to be attracted to such worldly distractions. However, these things are ephemeral at best. And just as these things themselves are fleeting, our conversations about them are even more short-lived. Torah, on the other hand, is eternal. And words of Torah endure alongside it. When our conversations turn to the Word of God, they are much more than those revolving around entertainment. They contribute to a person’s character, his emotional well-being, and his very soul.
Rabbi Chananiah claims that “when two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence rests between them.” At first, this statement can appear a bit presumptuous. However, it has an affinity with one of our Master’s teachings that sounds very similar. Yeshua said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). Here we find that a minimum of two people are together, but they have a common spiritual connection and and a common purpose for their gathering: Yeshua. But think about the converse. If two believers come together, but without any thought toward Yeshua, then can his presence manifest among them? Have we thus scorned the very one who connects us? This is similar to Rabbi Chananiah’s logic. If we can’t connect with the common cord that links us together, then we have wasted both our time and our breath.
Does this mean our conversations must be strictly focused on Torah, and that we can’t talk about anything else? No football, basketball, or the latest Marvel movie? This isn’t what Rabbi Chananiah means. He doesn’t mean to restrict all conversation to deeply spiritual matters. However, he would probably agree that our conversations should be “peppered” with Torah, and that we should strive to point every conversation in a direction where spiritual lessons can be gleamed from it. How can we do this?
The main ingredient it takes for our conversations to be peppered with Torah, is a love for Torah. If a love for Torah resides in our hearts, then it will naturally come out in our conversations, because we speak about the things we are passionate about. If Torah is not our passion, but merely our hobby, then it will be far less likely to be a part of our conversations. We will be more apt to talk about our favorite sports teams or the latest movies. A passion for Torah, however, will turn every conversation into an opportunity for spiritual growth.
The starting point is to develop a passion for Torah. If we have a passion for Torah, then even when the conversation begins with football, it can easily be directed toward spiritual application. When we filter our conversations through a passion for Torah they will take on real and lasting meaning. They will stick in people’s minds and give them a value they never thought possible when talking about sports or their favorite mode of entertainment. Don’t feel like you can’t ever talk about football. But don’t miss out on your opportunities to speak from your heart to another person’s heart either.