Earlier this week, we noted the comment of the Midrash Tanchuma (Vayishlach, 9) explaining the Torah’s description of Yaakov as a “yosheiv ohalim” – “dweller of tents” (25:27). Chazal understood this term as a reference to Yaakov’s diligent study, and the Midrash Tanchuma elaborates, “There was nobody who toiled in Torah like our patriarch Yaakov… It does not say here, ‘dweller of a tent,’ but rather ‘a dweller of tents’ – he would go from the study hall of Shem to the study hall of Eiver, and from the study hall of Eiver to the study hall of Avraham.” Drawing upon the plural form “ohalim,” the Midrash tells that Yaakov did not study in a single “tent,” but rather availed himself of the variety of different learning opportunities that existed at that time.
The Tolna Rebbe explained that the Midrash seeks to convey to us the importance of learning from multiple teachers and utilizing a variety of different learning styles and methodologies. Torah exists in “ohalim,” in many different schools, offering a wide range of approaches. We are encouraged not to remain confined to a single “tent,” to one specific approach, but rather to follow Yaakov’s example of going from one study hall to another, exploring different methodologies and benefitting all we can from each in our pursuit of excellence.
The Tolna Rebbe further noted the significance of the fact that the Torah presents this description of Yaakov as a point of contrast with his brother: “Esav was a man who knew hunting, a man of the field, and Yaakov was a simple man, a dweller of tents.” Symbolically, Esav is associated with negative spiritual forces and tendencies. Yaakov’s description as a “yosheiv ohalim” thus alludes to us that we can resist and overcome “Esav,” our negative tendencies and external spiritual threats, by following his example of learning in many different “tents.” No single “tent” can be assumed to have the solutions for all the different manifestations of “Esav.” In order to overcome the wide range of spiritual challenges that we face over the course of our lives, we need to access the wide range of spiritual resources that are found in the various different “tents” of study. We are encouraged and urged to “go from the study hall of Shem to the study hall of Eiver, and from the study hall of Eiver to the study hall of Avraham” – to avail ourselves of different styles of learning and different approaches to Torah life, so we can build for ourselves a complete, integrated Torah persona that can overcome the different religious challenges that we confront.