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
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.