A havruta is a soulmate of the mind. He or she is a person who studies Torah with a partner on a regular basis, sometimes for many years.
There are yeshivot, such as the Mir in Jerusalem, where, at the beginning of a semester, students wander about in search of a havruta. This is called “tumult day” and is similar in some ways to speed dating, but in this case, the shidduch chooses a learning partner.
The concept of havruta is a fascinating one. The word itself has the same root as the word for “friend” or “companionship.” In essence, when someone finds a havruta, that person finds a mate with whom he or she can pursue a deeper knowledge of the Torah.
I first discovered the idea of havruta in my yeshiva days. Before that, learning, for me, was an isolated venture, in which I would arrive at a resolution to a conflict on my own. While this mode of study has some benefits, learning with someone else challenged me to develop my ideas, analyze them and share them. Rabbi Yossi bar Hanina said that “scholars who sit alone to study the Torah … become stupid” (Berakhot 63b).
Learning with a havruta meant that I had to really know the topic at hand and try hard to figure it out through debate. Like any true and authentic partner, there is no room for fakery when one learns with a havruta. If one tries to finagle his way through a page of Gemara, for example, the partnership will not work, as intellectual authenticity is a must.
Of course, there is an expectation that my havruta will learn from me, as well. My current havruta, Motel, and I have such a relationship. Every Monday night, we get together at my place and study Rambam and the portion of the week.
Motel provides me with background material on who Rambam was and why he is one of the greatest thinkers and codifiers of law in Jewish history. Over the last year, we have studied the laws of respect for one’s teacher and what sort of behaviour is expected of a good Jew.
Motel is a Torah scholar and therefore draws upon his vast knowledge and years of learning, to create a rich study environment. I benefit tremendously from his great curiosity of Torah and secular studies, as well as his pursuit of genealogy. I have grown dramatically because of his generous spirit and his willingness to share what he knows. Motel is a passionate Torah learner and I am fortunate to have him as my havruta.
Yet, for a long time, I wondered what I was bringing to the table, as I am not a Torah scholar and still, at 57 years old, am learning some Torah fundamentals.
Over time, I realized that a solid havruta necessitates a sharing of the mind, as well as the spirit. It was through this revelation that I recognized that the three decades of my work in the community brings something unique to the table, in the guise of life experience.
When Motel and I discuss the Rambam’s approach to leadership, I can draw upon my history at Ve’ahavta, which helps actualize the Rambam’s ideas.
The havruta – the friend, the soulmate of the mind – is in some ways the seedling of our peoplehood. As we are called “the people of the book,” learning and knowing is everything to us. In order to know, to survive and to grow, one must maximize the pursuit of gathering information and knowledge. What wiser way to do that than by challenging one’s thinking with a havruta?