In preparation for kabolas haTorah...
This essay was originally published in the Israeli English edition of Yated Ne'eman in the issue of parshas Emor of 5758 (1998).
The dream of many years is finally realized. Reuven has graduated yeshiva ketana and has enrolled in yeshiva gedola. He is now a real yeshiva bochur.
He has long had the feeling that he must become a lamdan. This conviction now accompanies him to the yeshiva; it does not let up for a single moment. His aim is to become a lamdan!
Reuven begins studying with his chavrusa, attends the shiurim of the maggidei shiurim, studies diligently during all three daily sedorim of the yeshiva. In the morning he prepares for the shiur, in the afternoon he reviews it and studies bekiyus — covering many masechtos to gain proficiency in Shas. During the evening study period he concentrates until late at night on iyun, analyzing the gemora for deep understanding.
An entire zman passes, and then a year, but our yeshiva student still does not feel closer to his goal of becoming a lamdan.
On the contrary, during the course of the year Reuven has discovered almost endless ways of studying Torah. There are talmidim who emphasize bekiyus, while there are those who emphasize iyun; some painstakingly review the shiurim to understand every minute detail thoroughly, and others devote time to studying the Ketzos HaChoshen and the Shev Shemaatsah, works famous for their unswerving logic. There are talmidim who come out with their own chidushim and present them to small study groups (chaburos), while some prefer to study by themselves and examine a sevora of R' Chaim Soloveitchik's for three hours straight.
You can find some boys studying masechtos by heart, but others are content to study the gemora, Rashi, Tosafos, and one other rishon, and then to continue on. There are those who engross themselves in studying many commentaries of the acharonim. Some complete the study of a sugya in three days, others in three weeks, while others even take three months.
Reuven has already studied a year in the yeshiva. Every once in a while he finds other shittos. He is totally confused and does not know which way to chose. He has a burning desire to become a masterful talmid chochom — a lamdan — but because of the myriad shittos he is lost.
He is a sensitive boy and is embarrassed to ask openly for a way out of his bewilderment. Reuven hints to his rav in a beating-around-the-bush fashion about his many doubts. The rav advises him that the most important thing is to study diligently, to exert continual effort in one's studies.
This talmid certainly does want to study diligently, but the question is how? In whose way? Should he study as Shimon studies, or perhaps as Yehuda studies, or maybe the way Binyomin studies is preferable? Our Reuven is totally baffled.
He then tries to study unrelentingly in one way for three months but at the end does not sense that he is already a full- fledged lamdan. Reuven's next attempt is a second shittah of studying, but after a few months he does not see any dramatic change in his lamdonus either. After another and yet another experiment he has not yet seen the light at the end of the tunnel. He is discouraged.
His level of assiduity plummets, his joy in studying has vanished, and his aspirations are squelched.
There are some students whose spirit completely cracks at this stage, with dire results: some just study lifelessly without really concentrating — they have "given up the game"; others leave the yeshiva; while others . . .
Our talmid is not one of them. Reuven has a healthy outlook on life and cannot be broken so easily. But his doubts about the correct way to study Torah do not allow him peace of mind.
Another year passes, and suddenly he finds that some of his talented friends who were admitted to the yeshiva together with him are already far more advanced than he. They are knowledgeable in numerous masechtos, with Rashi, Tosafos, rishonim and acharonim, and they are analyzing fine sevoros and innovating striking chidushei Torah. What has happened to him? Why are they so far ahead of him? He debates at length, trying to think of a way out of this predicament.
Suddenly he has found the way! He remembers what his rav in the first shiur of yeshiva ketana once advised his class: imprecise understanding is worthless. At the time Reuven did not consider his rav's motto significant, but now, after all he has gone through, he sees its importance.
"It seems," Reuven tries to explain to himself, "that my difficulty arose from my eagerness to cover as much as possible." This had caused him a lack of clarity. He really did not have a lucid picture of the give-and-take of the gemora and how each shittah in the rishonim interprets it differently. His concepts remained vague.
"Imprecise understanding is worthless" is the key to becoming a lamdan. Precise comprehension, not only a cursory reading, is the way to success. One must study and constantly review until he knows clearly what he has studied, until he cannot be confused. If one is asked a question about the Gemora and he can only answer "This is more or less the answer," he has definitely not reached clarity.
His rav's advice rescued him from his plight. With new vitality, pleasure, and seemingly infinite energy Reuven returns to his studies. This time, however, he studies differently. His present aim: exactness in knowledge — klohrkeit.
@Big Let Body=The above is only general guidance, quite insufficient to help those talmidim who are seeking out the way to become a lamdan. Since the problem is complicated and needs much more specific guidance, I asked three eminent talmidei chachomim to illuminate for us the way to succeed in one's Torah studies.
The questions were:
All agree that a person should become a lamdan, but the concept of being a lamdan must be accurately defined. Furthermore, when a talmid is studying gemora, Rashi and Tosafos, when he has finished Shas and understands what he has studied, what is he lacking?
Is there any preferable shittah how to become a lamdan? Is it possible to teach talmidim to study in such and such a way so that they become lamdonim? If there is, what is it?
Why do so many have great difficulties in succeeding in Torah study despite their efforts? How can they be encouraged?
In a historical prospective, were there different shittos of Torah study? What were the main shittos, and why in our yeshivos are we studying in the current way?
HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin
Appoint A Rav Over Yourself
Before I begin answering the questions presented to me I must first emphasize that the responsibility for answering such questions is immense. The correct way of studying Torah is a weighty topic both with regard to the Torah itself and those who study it. An incorrect answer for someone who adopts it as guidance can cause a bitul of the Torah itself — false understanding of Hashem's will — since the Torah is being improperly studied. In addition, there is a bitul Torah for those who study it, since they have distanced themselves from the proper way of Torah study.
The only way I can possibly answer this question is by conveying what my mentors advised me, either personally or through their seforim. It should be pointed out that for an answer that is both detailed and comprehensive one must analyze the topic in depth by himself. I can only indicate certain points that might seem to be a first impression. If my answers benefit some of the readers I will be quite content.
Answer to Question One
1) A lamdan is someone who pays maximum attention both to what is written and to the way it is written. He focuses on most of the details I have underlined in this essay.
2) He clarifies what appears to him the intent of each commentary. The lamdan turns this knowledge over in his mind to see if it is reasonable. If he decides that his conclusions are illogical it shows him that he has incorrectly understood what the commentaries mean to teach us.
3) The lamdan's reasoning is not according to any natural process of logic. It is only through years-long study of Shas and its commentaries, and absorbing the roshei yeshivos' analytic shiurim, that he has developed his distinctive way of reasoning.
4) Lamdonim have learned to distinguish between two seemingly similar concepts. They realize which differences are significant and which merely trivial, not affecting the heart of the matter.
The second part of the first question seems to be contradicting itself. If a student comprehends the gemora, Rashi, and Tosafos properly he should be contented with his lot, since he is already a real lamdan. On the other hand, if this refers to someone who incompletely understands the Talmud and its commentaries, that is itself the answer.
Answer to Second Question
Guidance to study according to a certain method can be given in two ways: either by explaining in detail how to study, so that the student will later adopt this method, or by actually studying together with him, so that he will naturally copy the method of someone more expert than him in Torah study. Understandably the first way has a minimal chance of success. Even if the teacher offers guidance at length and in great detail the student often does not properly grasp it.
Answer to Third Question
There is no one answer for this, since the causes for lack of success are so many. Of course, this whole question applies only to a sincere student, who diligently studies with yiras Shomayim and concentrates all his powers of thought on Torah, and who casts off thoughts of anything else and indulgence in any other activities.
Sometimes the reason for failure in one's studies is the teacher and sometimes it is the student. Even a teacher's good understanding of the gemora and having the ability to express himself clearly is insufficient. He must also successfully provoke the student to be a partner with him in his thoughts and his deliberations over how to understand the gemora. Presenting the text of the gemora properly so that the student absorbs it is also not enough. The teacher must stimulate the student so that he will be aroused to independent thought.
In general, teaching must be more like studying chavrusa with the students than formally instructing them. The teacher must listen well to what the students say, even though they are unsuccessful in expressing themselves. If he does not teach in such a way, only the students who have their own inherent initiative will succeed.
I will now discuss the cases where the above deficiencies do not exist but the student still fails to advance in his studies.
(A) The student is not on the same level as the class. Sometimes a student can be talented but has not reached the level of a particular class. His talents are not necessarily suited to the way that particular class is presented.
(B) The student is trying to elevate himself above his own capability. Since he involves himself with subjects he cannot possibly grasp, not only will he lack knowledge of the subjects he skipped over (subjects that he would have greatly benefited from grasping), but his engaging in such aimless study confuses him and causes him to fall even from the educational level he had previously attained.
(C) Sometimes the talent and nature of a student are not suited to the way the rav thinks or teaches. That student should be advised to study under another rav or in another yeshiva where their way of studying Torah better fits his nature. Only educational bankruptcy awaits the student who insists on continuing under such conditions.
(D) It is impossible to answer such a question objectively. The fact is that each person clings to the shittah of studying Torah that he is used to. The question, of course, is how we know that this is the correct shittah when a person's decision to continue in this way is only due to his being accustomed to it. Furthermore, we cannot decide which shittah is better, since there are gedolei Torah who innovated each method and undoubtedly each method is Toras emes. In reality, each person should continue in the way he is accustomed to from his yeshiva. Just as with any matter where there exists a difference of opinions, we follow our custom, so also in this matter of choosing the proper method of studying Torah. This is especially so since if a student or rav wants to change his method of study he has good chances of not succeeding.
I have enumerated only some points concerning success in Torah study, and my colleagues will certainly clarify the matter more. May Hashem save us from mistakes.
HaRav Shimon Moshe Diskin shlita is a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim
Next week: the reply of HaRav Tzvi Friedman