Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Shevat 5763 - January 15, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Making it Sweet

by R' Zvi Zobin

R' Nosson was an elderly Jew who used to daven in our Beis Medrash. Our minyon was comprised mainly of teenagers and we felt litle in common with him. Sometimes he frowned at some of our antics, but mainly he would come into the shul, take a gemora from the shelf and was soon lost to the world.

One day he became ill and was taken to the hospital. We went to visit him. We came to his bed -- and there he was with a gemora propped up against his knees, learning as calmly as if he were in the Beis Hamidrash.

R' Nosson learned gemora because he enjoyed it. He did not need newspapers or videos or computer games to make him happy -- he was content with just a blatt gemora. Learning was his favorite recreation.

One of our main goals is to make learning so enjoyable for the talmid that he will learn gemora because he enjoys it; to feel the challenge of first grasping the plain meaning of the gemora and then thinking deeper and deeper into it, spontaneously finding himself amongst the Rishonim and Acharonim.

Nowadays, one of the biggest challenges to the teacher is to help his talmid enjoy `breaking into' a new sugya by himself.

In these days of superficial, external sophistication and `instant gratification,' some students do not know how to relate to the challenge of understanding each word and justifying each letter of a text. They try to scan the text, fish for some idea of what it is saying and then go straight into the Acharonim because that is where they believe the `real action' is. It is like scraping the jam of a sandwich and throwing away the bread -- they are missing the real target of their learning which will give them genuine satisfation. Such a student will never learn to enjoy working his way through Shas.

In his famous letter, the Vilna Gaon advised his wife as follows, "For Hashem's sake, guide them well and gently. Take care of their health and make sure that they always have enough to eat. First they should learn the entire Chumash almost by heart. The learning must not be with undue pressure but gently, because Torah is best absorbed when one is relaxed. Give them coins etc. as a reward."

The Vilna Gaon was telling his wife how to prepare their children for future accomplishment in their learning. He was telling her to first give them a solid grounding in Chumash, but he also stipulated that the learning be done without undue pressure. This means that he knew that if undue pressure was exerted, the efforts would backfire. The Gaon also understood that the best way to develop motivation in a young child is through shelo lishmo incentives.

This important principle also applies to the first stages of learning `how to learn' gemora. The student needs to enjoy learning as an enjoyable activity -- though being aware of the lishmo aspect as well.

Nowadays, the baalei tshuva yeshivos lead their students to become motivated to learn gemora by teaching them to enjoy the intellectual and spiritual challenge of mastering the plain meaning of a text of gemora and then trying to appreciate the depth and expanse of the classic Commentaries. Of course, it is not possible to `unduly pressure' a potential baal tshuva, and shiurim are typically given in a relaxed `open forum' style, encouraging student participation.

If the student sees the case of the gemora as a reality and is given the opportunity to consider the pro's and con's of the situation, he is able to think of his own reaction to the case and then he can relate to the discussions of the gemora and commentaries and perhaps `take sides' -- then it becomes `his Torah.' Once the talmid becomes emotionally involved in the discussions, he will enjoy unravelling the various aspects and resolving them.


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