In the previous post on this subject I suggested that learning is emphasized more than doing because it is possible to imagine more situations than are practically possible, and "infuse" them with the will of Hashem. Now I will elaborate on the role of the imagination in learning.
Menachem Ekstein in T’nai ha’Nefesh l’Hasagat ha’Chasidut (translated at Visions of a Compassionate World), explains that throughout life Man must his emotional capabilities in order to feel alive. If he follows this path he will eventually be able to experience the manifestation of Hashem. This is, he writes, the goal of the Torah – to expand our emotions so that we may sense the Presence of Hashem – but this aspect was neglected. Thus the Baal Shem Tov taught that one must do this through contemplative meditation. Thus, in his book, he advocates visualizing situations which will evoke all different types of emotion. However, it is implied from this words that one could use the Torah to expand his emotions through fully delving into the different situations, primarily through the thoughts and feelings of people involved in the situations. Similarly, he can experience different emotional situations through the imagery of the gemara.
In a broader sense, recognition of Hashem, the Infinite One, can only occur when one moves beyond their self-centered existence. Thus, when one learns halakha he is getting a taste of the broadness of life and moves beyond his own self-centered existence. Only through contemplating and visualizing all of existence, both its physical and moral manifestation, and perceiving the will and wisdom of Hashem will one come to this state.
Below I quote two very different thinkers on this idea: R. Shimon Shkop and l'havdil, Bertrand Russell. Even though they are not talking about gemara (especially Russell!) I think that their words are equally applicable to gemara.
R. Shimon Shkop, Sha'arei Yosher
The entire “I” of a coarse and lowly person is restricted only to his substance and
body. Above him is someone who feels that his “I” is a synthesis of body and soul. And
above him is someone who can include in his “I” all of his household and family. Someone who walks according to the way of the Torah, his “I” includes the whole Jewish people, since in truth every Jewish person is only like a limb of the body of the nation of Israel. And there are more levels in this of a person who is whole, who can connect his soul to feel that all of the world and worlds are his “I”, and he himself is only one small limb in all of creation. Then, his self-love helps him love all of the Jewish people and [even] all of creation.
In my opinion, this idea is hinted at in Hillel’s words, as he used to say, “If I am not
for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I?”13 It is fitting for each
person to strive to be concerned for himself. But with this, he must also strive to
understand that “I for myself, what am I?” If he constricts his “I” to a narrow domain,
limited to what the eye can see [is him], then his “I” – what is it? Vanity and ignorable. But if his feelings are broader and include [all of] creation, that he is a great person and also like a small limb in this great body, then he is lofty and of great worth. In a great engine even the smallest screw is important if it even serves the smallest role in the engine. For the whole is made of parts, and no more than the sum of its parts.
Bertrand Russell's The Problems of Philosophy, The Value of Philosophy
The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find, as we saw in our opening chapters, that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.
Apart from its utility in showing unsuspected possibilities, philosophy has a value -- perhaps its chief value -- through the greatness of the objects which it contemplates, and the freedom from narrow and personal aims resulting from this contemplation. The life of the instinctive man is shut up within the circle of his private interests: family and friends may be included, but the outer world is not regarded except as it may help or hinder what comes within the circle of instinctive wishes...The private world of instinctive interests is a small one, set in the midst of a great and powerful world which must, sooner or later, lay our private world in ruins. Unless we can so enlarge our interests as to include the whole outer world, we remain like a garrison in a beleagured fortress, knowing that the enemy prevents escape and that ultimate surrender is inevitable.... In one way or another, if our life is to be great and free, we must escape this prison and this strife...[T]hrough the infinity of the universe the mind which contemplates it achieves some share in infinity.