Question & Answer With Moshe David Tokayer - The Ocean's Vastness
A Simple Jew asks:
The sea of Torah is so vast that a person can easily become overwhelmed with the knowledge of how many seforim he has not even begun to learn. Since a person can only learn so much on any given day, what advice would you give a person based on your own experiences so he could feel encouraged and not discouraged by the daunting task in front of him?
Moshe David Tokayer answers:
When I was very young in Yeshiva, this question was a big problem for me. I would get easily depressed seeing others more advanced or "smarter" than I. I thought, "Why bother? I'll never be like him!" As I grew older, I realized that this type of thinking is straight from the yetzer hara in order to nip me in the bud, so to speak. The yetzer hara does not want us to even begin learning so he puts thoughts of despair in our minds before we even start.
There are several things that I do that make learning easier for me:
1. The very first thing that works for me is to treat my various learning as projects. I find it very difficult for me to simply sit down and learn for a set period of time forever, so to speak. Doing this gives me the feeling of treading water. I need to feel some sense of progress and, for me, this comes when I have projects. My Sfas Emes blog is a good example. I would never have gotten to understand the Sfas Emes the way I do if I were just learning it a few times a week to see what he says.
For many years I was a project leader in charge of developing software applications for large companies. I applied my experience to learning. By treating learning as a project, it becomes an entity with a beginning middle and an end.
For example, I once wanted to learn Maseches Zevachim. I decided that I wanted to know the Maseches well so I did not simply learn it from beginning to end. Instead, as I learned the Masechta, I wrote a summary of the maskanos of each sugya including the various shitos according to Rashi and sometimes Tosefos as well. I wrote it in the form of questions and answers. In order to do this you can imagine that you have to know the material fairly well.
By the time I completed the masechta I had written the shitos of the entire masechta in summary and I had a table of contents of the entire masechta. This came in quite handily any time I needed to refer back to the masechta to look something up.
The point is that while the above seems more difficult than just learning through the masechta, it was actually easier for me because I turned it into a more meaningful project.
2. When I sit down to learn, I don't think about how much I haven't yet learned. Instead I imagine a mountain of gold before me from which I now have the opportunity to scrape off a little bit. Even though I know that at the end of the day, I will not have made much of a dent in the mountain, I still end up rich! The key for me is to work on fully appreciating the Torah that I learn instead of getting depressed about what I haven't learned.
3. Consistency. My father A"H had a chavrusa Friday nights with the same person for years. They finished masechtos learning once a week consistently. Looking at it from the point of view of how much there is to learn, they probably would not have started. After all, how much can you possibly cover once a week on a Friday night. I'm sure they simply learned together because they enjoyed it and they did not think much about how much they needed to accomplish. The hatzlacha usually comes behesech hada'as.
I have a friend who started learning with Mif'al HaShas (30 blatt a month Gemara Rashi and Tosefos and a test at the end of each month) when that program first started about 25 years ago under the auspices of the Klausenberger Rebbe. He hasn't missed a test in 25 years! He even took the test when he had pneumonia, when his wife had babies, etc. As you can imagine, this friend is mamash a yachid bedoro. He can attest to the incredible siyata dishmaya that comes from the mesirus nefesh that this feat requires.
This is an extreme example of consistency. However, I bring it to show its importance and the unbelievable results that come from it.
4. I've saved maybe the most important thing for last and that is that there is a G-d in Israel! The question that I am constantly asking myself is, "What does G-d want from me?" I believe that G-d wants me to serve Him to the best of my ability. Part of that avoda involves learning His Torah. I turn to Him and ask Him for His help because without it, nothing is possible.