Worries About Tomorrow
Excerpt from "Lights on the Path" by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter:
How often do we make a commitment to Torah study, or to better observance of mitzvos, only to find that we cannot live up to the ideal? This is especially true of young yeshivah students, who tend to become depressed afterward. The reason this happens is because at the time of the commitment, we are in a positive state of mind - the very reason for our renewed desire to succeed! Yet our moods change and when the time comes to implement our decision, we may not be feeling up to it, for the schedule we chose is not appropriate for our present state of mind.
This trick, then, is to set up two or more kinds of schedules, one for the strong times and one for the weak ones. For it is precisely when we are feeling up and making positive commitments for the future that we must also prepare ourselves for the low times. This is the only path to success.
This was Reb Noson's practice. We he first became a disciple of Rabbi Nachman, and saw that he could not maintain the demanding study program that the Rebbe had set for him, he did not become upset or frustrated. Rather, he arranged for himself a large variety of study goals, one for every situation. He had thirteen different approaches to studying the Shulchan Aruch! There was a certain amount he had to learn on a regular day, another amount for Friday afternoons, another for traveling, for the eve of Yom Kippur, for holidays, etc. In this way, he learned the entire Shulchan Aruch many times.
Another approach is to take a large scale agenda and divide it over a two day period. Whatever we hoped to accomplish in one day, we should allow ourselves two. The load will be lightened, yet we will still feel like we are reaching our goals.
The problem is that during the times we feel strong and confident, we avoid making back up plans. We are loath to abandon our large scale projects that seem, for the movement, within our reach. And yet, in the end, the plans fall through and we become bitter and depressed, until we may abandon all form of study whatsoever.
A Handful of Time
If you ask the average yeshivah student if he learns Shulchan Aruch, he will answer you, "Of course." If you ask him if he learned 365 halachos in the course of the year - one a day - he will probably answer, "No."
This leads us to another piece of advice. Besides all our other plans, the large projects and the small, the in-depth study and the broad, we should make an unbending commitment to learn two halachos from the Shulchan Aruch every day. Although this takes only a moment, at the end of the year we will have learned 700 halachos.
There used to be a great Torah scholar of Jerusalem whose life was devoted to unceasing study, who nonetheless learned the daily portion of Chok L'Yisroel. Despite his busy schedule, he still worried about the question of the Heavenly Tribunal, "Did you fix times for study?" We too, should have at least one text that we learn daily, no matter what, for we are not always able to maintain our normal routine. The we too will have a positive answer for the Heavenly Tribunal, when we arrive there after 120 years.
Rabbi Nachman once admonished a person who claimed to be too busy working to learn. "You should at least grab a little time for Torah study each day," he said. "A person has to steal time from his other activities to study Torah"
The best way to do this is through small, yet fixed, periods of study. These should be arranged around other regular events, such as prayer or meals. Even if you miss a meal, you will be able to pick up again tomorrow.
Here is one possible "menu" of what to learn during these times. The daily amount is very small, but it adds up to much over time.
Breakfast: One chapter of Tanach, even if there is only enough time to read the words without commentary. After a while, you will finish all of Tanach, and certainly understand a large part of it.
Lunch: Three verses of Chumash and Rashi (starting from the beginning of the Torah until the end - not following the weekly reading.) At the end of the month, you will have learned ninety verses.
Dinner: One halacha from the Shulchan Aruch. At the end of the month, you will have learned thirty halachos.
Before sleep: One Mishnah, which adds up to thirty Mishnayos a month.
This is only one example. Each person should set up a schedule appropriate to him. He will soon see the large amount of Torah knowledge he has acquired. Even if he misses part of his larger, daily program, he will still be happy to have completed these smaller projects. Rabbi Nachman alluded to this when he said, "A little is also good."
The source for this idea is in the Midrash: "Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, 'Learn two or three chapters of Mishnayos on Shabbos, two or three halachos a day, two or three parshas a month, and you will end up very rich. About this, the verse says, 'One who gathers a handful at a time will eventually have much' (Mishlei 13:11), but one who says. 'Tomorrow I will study' ends up with nothing."
This much is certain: By following this advice, you will end up with years of constant Torah study.