One of the greatest joys of life is the experience called hevruta. The root of hevruta is the word haver "friend." Our sages said: "Take yourself a friend, go and study." Simple yes, and there are a few guidelines that make the experience safe and a bit more profound.
The "And" method. This kind of study is collaborate, additive and non-competitive. Each person’s insights are honored, supported and treasured by the other. You are going on a Torah adventure together. When you have a different insight from your friend you express this by first empathizing with what s/he said.
Example: "Oh, you see Joseph's time spent in the pit after his brother's threw him in as a punishment he deserved for being arrogant."
AND "My reaction to the text is different. I wonder if the pit is a metaphor for the hard times in life, when you feel like you're in a pit."
AND "Do you mean like when we make a mistake and upset someone and he or she walks right by us like we're not there?"
AND "Yes. Maybe the pit was a time-out for Joseph. Later in the story he keeps saying how everything he is able to do is because of God. He becomes humble. That's a big change!"
Eternitis. In rabbinical school Reb Goldfish and her study partner [who became a best friend] Rabbi Brian Nevins-Goldman would enter the text determined to finish our assignments in good time. We would fall into the joy of the hevrutah experience and had to invent a term for the feeling of a delicious mutual exploration of meaning and Jewish text. We called this feeling "eternitis," when you lose all sense of time and place, and what is discovered is rich, deep and amazing. Because of this delightful side effect, if you have a scheduled appointment following your hevruta, it’s a good idea to set a timer for your session.
The race goes to the deepest. Success in Torah study is counter-intuitive to your training in school. Being the first to finish analyzing a text for meaning rarely means you will have the most profound insights to share. In hevruta, one goes slowly, even word by word, wondering at the author’s choice of terms, juxtaposition of ideas, turn of a phrase. Take your time, the journey is everything.
Take turns reading and responding. First, read your piece of study text aloud. Next, your study partner reads just the first sentence again, aloud. You get to comment on it first. Then your partner summarizes/empathizes with what you’ve noticed and adds his/her own views. Continue to explore the verse, or have your study partner read the next one aloud. The process continues until you finish the piece, or, more likely, run out of time.
Share the Torah of Your Life. Experiences and resources such as poems and pictures from your personal life which relate to the ideas you both develop during your text study, these are holy too. It is important to select a safe study partner, someone with good boundaries who can keep confidences. Sharing the intersection of the Torah of your life with the Torah text, this is one of the places spiritual intimacy can be achieved in this life.
Use Scholarly Resources on the Second Round. Once you have arrived at a first level understanding of the text with your partner, you might want to return to it in the company of the thoughts of commentators from throughout the ages. Often, they will have noticed different things than you have, for they come through a different socio-cultural and historical lens and they are experts in the grammar and drenched in the full scope of Torah. Study their words using the hevruta method above.
Add Your Voice to the Dialogue of the Generations. Your thoughts, intuitions and research into the text may be quite original and certainly the lens of your generation and life is unique. Sometimes take the time to write up your own commentary and share it.
Product Warning Label: In addition to revelation and other forms of insight and amazement, what arises in this process a feeling of closeness, respect and love for one another. Sometimes this can be become such a passionate dynamic that it is easily confused with love or lust. It is very important that anything that comes up resembling sexual energy or romantic love not be acted upon. When all your energy goes into the Torah study, your sacrifice will keep you safe and secure the holiness of the study in which you are engaged.
Often hevruta relationships endure as meaningful long after the actual opportunities to meet have passed. You have shared the Torah of your lives while encountering the sacred text. In an age where it is hard to get past the superficial, hevruta is Judaism’s special gift of spiritual friendship.