Monday, July 14, 2008

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?

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.


At July 14, 2008 at 6:58:00 AM EDT, Blogger Eliyahu Shear said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At July 15, 2008 at 12:27:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

doesn't anybody every remember that it says that each person has their own special mitzvah to focus on? some people may not be cut out to learn so much. but they do chesed or they help people. and the list goes on.

the things that gets to me here is all the focus on quantity. i find it discouraging and not in the spirit of ahavas torah.

what i'd like to see is a piece on how someone loves something so much when he does it his heart sings.

maybe he only gets to learn a little tanya. a little chumash. but his heart sings! this is the kind of thing that levi yitzhak of berditchev used to praise jews for to Hashem.

where is that kind of devotion?

all this talk about quantities of learning...ok, if that's what gets you going, fine. but does anyone realize that there are many jews out there who won't do that, so it is incumbent on those who know torah to inspire them to love learning, plain and simple...not for the quantity.

people, please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At July 15, 2008 at 12:33:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

gevalt gevalt.i'm not intersted in swimming the whole ocean. for gosh sakes!!! i would be so happy to simply sit there and really be present and appreciate its beauty, its sound, its refreshing breeze and the mikva of its waters.

transpose this to torah.

i think one reason we lose religious people or don't get enough people coming in is a complete lack of undrstanding of the most important simple things.

devotion to learning and trying to do as much as possible is great.

but it's not for everyone.

even so, as the old song says:
where is the love?

i'm not feeling the love here. i'm only seeing some compulsive need to acquire large amounts of learning and frankly it turns me off to the whole thing.

what does it mean for a person's life if on one day they get excited or moved by one pasuk tehilim, one idea from the parsha.....?

do you ever think about that?

the most important thing today is outreach to the vast number of jews who don't know bupkes about learning.



At July 15, 2008 at 6:24:00 AM EDT, Blogger Moshe David Tokayer said...

To anonymous,

There is no contradiction between what you are saying and what I am saying. We are addressing two different types of people.

Although some may be happy and their hearts may sing from a little tanya and a little chumash, for others, myself included, this is not nearly adequate.

I am addressing the person who wants to learn more but can't get past the vision before him of the entire Torah. He despairs before he even gets started because he thinks, "This is not possible, I can't do it."

He is depressed because he wants more but doesn't have the tools for moving forward.

That person needs tools for getting started and sustaining himself for the long haul of an entire life time of learning Torah while juggling all the other facets of his life.

At July 15, 2008 at 11:04:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband's heart sings when he learns Torah. I get high from a perek or posuk of Tehillim. We both do our own form of outreach and feel the importance of using our different forms of love for Torah as a tool to reach others. We are all different b'H and we are all great in our own ways. Let's each look inwards, identify our loves and talents and move towards geulah as a unified group - each carrying his/her piece of the puzzle.

At July 15, 2008 at 11:43:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to mdt, thanks for your thoughtful reply.

for me, i wish i could learn alot! but for whatever various reasons, i cannot. i have moments, when i'll really get into particular things bH...

i want you to know that the people who don't 'learn alot' doesn't mean that they don't have desire...they may simply not be able to. and their devotion, in their own way is still valued.



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