Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
A Rabbi’s Tale of Scripture Study
Seated around a tiny, ramshackle table in the cramped precincts of a synagogue already not meant for quite so many, the ten of us closed our books and waited in the heat of a summer afternoon in Jerusalem. Though Rabbi Yonah’s lesson on Passover had gone on for well over an hour, not one of us showed any signs of leaving.
“Rabbi,” began a friend beside me, startling us from our spellbound silence, “how can I get more out of Passover this year? How can I learn its mysteries?”
Rav Yonah paused, furrowed his brow and let his eyes slowly close as he sat deep in thought. After a moment that seemed to stretch on for hours, he looked up and, as was his way, told a story in answer.
“Long ago,” he began, “two friends studied the scriptures together every day. And as time passed, their daily toil turned friendship to brotherhood.”
As he spoke, the singular focus with which we listened was palpable—almost tangible. The power of the story had already begun to work its magic.
“Some years later,” he went on, “one of the friends married, and after only a few months of bliss, his marriage was marred by strife and discontent.”
“One day, as the two old friends sat poring over yet another page of holy writ, the one newly-married surrendered to his mounting frustration.”
“‘I can’t go on like this,’ he shouted. ‘I can’t even concentrate on scripture anymore!’”
“Eyes filled with concern, his friend asked what was the matter. ‘My wife demands I help around the house!’ he said. ‘Can you imagine? She wants me to take time out of my scripture study each day to sweep and mop the floor of our home! My obligation is to study and to study alone. It is not for me to do such work.’”
“With that, his friend of many years began asking him questions. When did he wake up each morning? Did his wife work outside the home? When was she away? How far from their home was the well to fetch water?”
“Sidetracked by his frustration, the married man took little notice of the questions, answering them almost without thinking. With the interrogation at an end, he went home, dejected at having lost an entire day of study to the simple matter of cleaning a floor.”
Rav Yonah let the story sink in for a moment before he continued.
“The next day, when the two met to study once more, the old focus had returned, and the married friend, forgetting all about the day before, never once lost the thread of his once formidable concentration.”
“When their day of study drew to a close, the married man turned to his friend. ‘When I went home yesterday,’ he said with a smile, ‘I found the floors freshly swept and mopped, and there is peace in our home again. I thought you should know.’”
“Nearly forty years passed in much the same way, the two men delving more deeply into Torah’s mysteries with each passing day. But all too soon this happy arrangement came to an end when the married man’s friend and lifelong study partner passed away quietly in the night, alone in his home.”
“Beside himself with grief, the one remaining friend would not return to his studies. For him, the period of mourning was almost more than he could bear.”
“When the day of the funeral finally came, he stood alone, far from the crowd gathered to remember his friend. Yet, he was soon joined by a figure who, approaching swiftly through the gathered mourners, he quickly recognized as his wife. ‘Listen,’ she said, ‘I know you’ve been mourning, but we’ve got a house to run. After forty years of never missing a day…’”
“Shaking off his somber thoughts, he replied, ‘What do you mean that I’ve ‘never missed a day in forty years’?’”
“‘Ever since our first fight about helping around the house, you’ve been sweeping and mopping the floor every day of our marriage. It’s one of my favorite things about you.’”
“Forgetting the funeral altogether, he replied. ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you,’ he said, ‘but I’ve never swept or mopped our floor in all our forty years of marriage—not even once.’”
“‘I thought it was you who cleaned our floors all these years,’ he went on. ‘That was one of my favorite things about you—that even though we had fought about it all those years ago, you made this quiet sacrifice every day without my ever having to ask for it.’”
“‘Well then,’ said his wife, exasperated, ‘someone’s been cleaning our floors for forty years, and for whatever reason, they stopped just a few days…’”
“All at once, they understood. With chilling clarity, the man remembered that conversation with his friend so many years before: how he had gone to study after their argument, how he had found himself unable to focus and how his friend had graciously listened to his woes.”
“He realized then for the first time that his friend’s questions hadn’t been commiserating, but carefully planned to find out exactly when his home would be empty so that he could sweep and mop his floors himself, and this for no other reason than lovingkindness for a friend.”
As the story ended, Rav Simcha, like a luthier tightening the strings of a violin, waited as our expectant silence grew by the moment.
“If you would know the mysteries of Passover,” he began, “I will tell you what you must do. Just beyond our little synagogue lives a young widow who, still expecting her firstborn, lost her husband only too recently. In a tiny room just above the marketplace, she waits out the days until the birth of her son, working frantically all the while that he might find some comfort when he arrives.”
“If you would know the mysteries of Passover,” he said, “go, find out where she lives, and whether she ever finds out, sweep and mop her floor.”
And with that, he closed his book and, leaving the burden of the lesson on our shoulders, quietly pushed his chair from the table, walked to the doorway and was gone.
We sat together for some time, crestfallen. The rabbi’s story had come to an end, but he hadn’t given us the lesson we wanted. Instead of an answer, he’d given an invitation, and so the responsibility to learn his lesson rested on our shoulders. If we would learn, he said, we had to act—to be, as James once wrote, “doers of the word, and not hearers only.”
An Invitation from the Lord
“Seek learning,” the Lord tells us, “even by study and also by faith.” “Study and learn,” He repeats, “and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongue and people.” “Let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures,” he says again, “to study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men.” “Learn of me what I will concerning you,” he relentlessly continues—“learn the ways of my people” in your youth, both day and night, at home and abroad, for “to be learned is good” if only we hearken to Him.
And at the heart of all these is His oft-repeated invitation, “Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
In short, the Lord would have us learn.
But that is not all He has to say on the subject. Just as it has great power for good, if done wrong, learning can lead to pride, foolishness, inequality, priestcraft and even sew the dangerous seeds of becoming Anti-Christ. Perhaps most unsettling of all is the prophecy that in the last days, our days, many would be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
In the midst of so many warnings and commandments, it seems easy to become overwhelmed. And so it may feel for many of us now at the start of a new chapter in the Kingdom. Under the Lord’s direction, we are embarking on what President Nelson simply called “an adjustment.” “It is time,” he said in October’s General Conference, “for a home-centered Church, supported by what takes place inside our branch, ward, and stake buildings.” As we engage in the new “Come, Follow Me” curriculum, supporting each other as individuals and families, we are responsible for our own learning within a home-centered, church-supported pattern.
With such added responsibility for Gospel learning within the home, we may find ourselves asking, “How do I get started?”
Where to Begin
Specifically emphasizing the power of faith and revelation in women, men and children (in other words, each and every one of us), Alma gives us a suggestion about where to begin. Whether to the seeds of God’s word as spoken by Alma anciently or President Nelson today, Alma invites us simply “to give place” for them. Even if we “can no more than desire to believe,” that’s enough to get on with. Even if it is for only “a portion” of his words, all we have to do is “give place” that they “may be planted” in our hearts.
By faith, he explains in the rest of the chapter, these word-seeds can grow, even flourish, until our faith in them is dormant, being replaced by a sure knowledge of their living truthfulness. In short, by faith we learn, and it is our responsibility to give place so that this faithful, revelatory process of learning might begin. But how? What does it mean to “give place”?
Of many possible answers to this question, suggest three here as a beginning. We can give place for home-centered, church-supported learning spatially, temporally and spiritually.
First, we can give place for the Lord by making the physical space of our home a place worthy of His presence. “Only the home,” says the Bible Dictionary entry for ‘temple’, “can compare with the temple in sacredness.” “We can,” said Elder Stevenson said, “make our homes a ‘house of the Lord.’” Inviting us to take a virtual tour of our homes through spiritual eyes, he continued:
“Imagine that you are opening your front door and walking inside your home. What do you see, and how do you feel? Is it a place of love, peace, and refuge from the world, as is the temple? Is it clean and orderly? As you walk through the rooms of your home, do you see uplifting images which include appropriate pictures of the temple and the Savior? Is your bedroom or sleeping area a place for personal prayer? Is your gathering area or kitchen a place where food is prepared and enjoyed together, allowing uplifting conversation and family time? Are scriptures found in a room where the family can study, pray, and learn together? Can you find your personal gospel study space? Does the music you hear or the entertainment you see, online or otherwise, offend the Spirit? Is the conversation uplifting and without contention? That concludes our tour. Perhaps you, as I, found a few spots that need some ‘home improvement’—hopefully not an ‘extreme home makeover.’”
No matter our circumstances, the physical environment in which we respond to God’s invitation to learn His ways makes a significant difference to the way in which the Spirit can be involved in that process. While inviting us to seek further light and knowledge from the Lord through personal revelation (an indispensable part of Gospel learning), President Nelson invited us to “follow the example of the Prophet Joseph” and “find a quiet place where you can regularly go” to pray and seek answers at the hand of the Lord. This place, this conduit of Gospel learning and revelation, can be within the sacred walls of our own homes. By giving place for Him there, we can begin the process of sacred learning in the home-centered, church-supported way outlined by His living prophets.
Second, we can give place for the Lord temporally by consecrating our time to Him. When the Jewish people lost their temple nearly two thousand years ago, they lost access to the one place on earth where they might build it again. And so, wrote Abraham Heschel, with neither brick or stone to build a place for God in their lives, they resolved to build God a temple out of the only material available to them: time. And so it was that, with the building blocks of their minutes and hours, the Jewish people built the Lord their God what Heschel called a “palace in time” each week on the Sabbath. Such time intentionally set aside for a sacred purpose was, for them, “a dimension in which the human is at home with…[and can] approach the likeness of the divine.”
When we make time to study the scriptures each day instead of doing any of the many other tasks that press upon our schedules, we place those minutes on the altar of the Lord, as it were, and build Him a palace in time wherein He can dwell. And it is in that palace together that we can learn from Him day by day, side by side and one-on-one.
Building this palace in time each day, even if only with a few moments between urgent emails and dirty diapers, is part of what it means to live the law of consecration. “True success in this life,” said Elder Christofferson, “comes in consecrating our lives—that is, our time and choices—to God’s purposes (see John 17:1, 4; D&C 19:19). In so doing, we permit Him to raise us to our highest destiny.” He went on to quote Richard L. Evans who said:
“Life offers you two precious gifts—one is time, the other freedom of choice, the freedom to buy with your time what you will. You are free to exchange your allotment of time for thrills. You may trade it for base desires. You may invest it in greed…Yours is the freedom to choose. But these are no bargains, for in them you find no lasting satisfaction. Every day, every hour, every minute of your span of mortal years must sometime be accounted for. And it is in this life that you walk by faith and prove yourself able to choose good over evil, right over wrong, enduring happiness over mere amusement. And your eternal reward will be according to your choosing.”
With the gift of time God gives us each day, we can give place for His words by creating a palace in time to match the sacred space of our homes. And as that temporal sanctification matches the spatial sanctity already found there, the Lord will help us in our home-centered, Church-supported Gospel learning.
Finally, we can give place for the word of the Lord in our hearts. When King Lamoni’s father heard the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he was willing to give up his entire kingdom in order to make room for the Lord in his heart. Responding to Christ’s invitation to all of us to take His yoke upon us and learn of Him, King Lamoni’s father humbled himself and said, “I will give away all my sins to know thee.” Such humility is essential for us to give place for the Lord and learn in the Savior’s appointed way. “Let him that is ignorant,” says Doctrine and Covenants 136:32, “learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and his ears opened that he may hear.”
Humility is not the only quality that characterizes a heart with room for the word of the Lord. In order to give place for the Spirit to teach us, we must be just, awake, willing to act, open to sources outside the scriptures alone and wise enough to discern between truth and error as we study. More than all these individual qualities, however, is the knowledge that learning in the Savior’s way does not come about by coercion. As children of God, we were created to act and not be acted upon. This principle applies in learning, as well. Illustrating the importance of a learner’s responsibility to act in order to learn, Elder Bednar taught:
“I suspect we emphasize and know much more about a teacher teaching by the Spirit than we do about a learner learning by faith. Clearly, the principles and processes of both teaching and learning are spiritually essential. However, as we look to the future and anticipate the ever more confused and turbulent world in which we will live, I believe it will be essential for all of us to increase our capacity to seek learning by faith… Nephi teaches us, “When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth [the message] unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Nephi 33:1). Please notice how the power of the Spirit carries the message unto but not necessarily into the heart. A teacher can explain, demonstrate, persuade, and testify, and do so with great spiritual power and effectiveness. Ultimately, however, the content of a message and the witness of the Holy Ghost penetrate into the heart only if a receiver allows them to enter. Learning by faith opens the pathway into the heart.”
When the Pharisees saw Jesus sitting and eating with publicans and sinners, they questioned his behavior. “They that be whole,” he replied, “need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Then, in an invitation as ambiguous as it was compelling, he taught, “But go ye and learn what that meaneth.”
Just as it was the responsibility of the children of Israel to look to the Brazen serpent in the wilderness and live, so it is our responsibility to learn from the Lord today. He, like Moses, has already prepared the way whereby we might learn the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is now our responsibility to respond to His many invitations to come to Him, learn of Him and by so doing become like Him, as well. So, friends, let us go together and, though perhaps not knowing the way but guided by the Spirit, learn what all this means.
 James 1:22
 Doctrine and Covenants 88:118
 Doctrine and Covenants 90:15
 Doctrine and Covenants 26:1
 Doctrine and Covenants 11:22
 Doctrine and Covenants 58:1
 Jeremiah 12:16
 Alma 37:35
 Isaiah 26:9-10
 Deuteronomy 6:7
 2 Nephi 9:29
 see Doctrine and Covenants 88:63; JST Matthew 7:12; 3 Nephi 14:7 (to name a few)
 2 Nephi 28: 4, 15, 30
 2 Nephi 9:29
 3 Nephi 6:12
 2 Nephi 26:20
 see the case of Sherem in Jacob 7:4
 2 Timothy 3:7
 see “Opening Remarks,” Saturday Morning Session, General Conference, October 2018.
 see Alma 32:23
 see Alma 32:27-28
 Alma 32:33-34
 see “Sacred Homes, Sacred Temples”, General Conference, April 2009
 see “Sacred Homes, Sacred Temples”, General Conference, April 2009
 see “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives”, General Conference, April 2018
 see The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel, p. 16.
 see “Reflections on a Consecrated Life,” General Conference, October 2010
 see Man’s Search for Happiness (pamphlet, 1969), p. 4-5.
 Matthew 11:28-30
 Alma 22:18
 Doctrine and Covenants 136:32
 Proverbs 9:9
 Alma 32:27
 Isaiah 1:17
 Doctrine and Covenants 90:15
 Proverbs 1:5
 see 2 Nephi 2:26
 see “Seek Learning by Faith”, CES Broadcast, September 2007
 see Matthew 9:12-13
 see Numbers 21:1-9
 see 1 Nephi 3:7
 Matthew 11:28
 Matthew 11:29
 3 Nephi 12:48
 1 Nephi 4:6