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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bamidbar: Fixing a time and place for Torah
The next thing that one needs to acquire Torah is "to establish one's learning". It is our obligation to fix daily times for Torah study. When a person puts his trust in G'd, no doubt G'd will provide him with his needs. Everyone should fix a place in their house to Torah study. "If you seek it like silver, and search for it like diamonds, then you will understand the fear of G'd." In order to have peace of mind, we must be able to overcome any worries and anxieties that may trouble us. Someone who studies but does not review is comparable to a farmer who plants but does not harvest. It was common for people to review what they had studied one hundred times. One must study Torah to the extent that if one is asked a question, one is able to answer immediately without any hesitation. The hours commuting to and from work can be utilized for studying with books and CDs. No one should get up and teach or speak in public unless he has reviewed what he wants to say several times. Many of our great Torah leaders made sure that they would transmit their material in a lucid and clear fashion to ensure that the next generation would be able to continue this chain. Only if we acquire Torah for ourselves and our children can we guarantee the continuity of the Jewish people.
Establish one's learning
The next thing, the Mishnah enumerates, that one needs to acquire Torah is "to establish one's learning". The commentaries explain that this includes to establish fixed times and to have a fixed place where to study Torah. It also entails to study with peace of mind and not to rush through the material. It further entails to make sure to review what one has studied. And finally it also means that a person must be well prepared and organized before teaching or sharing Torah knowledge with others.
Fixed time for Torah study
The Talmud (Shabbos 31a) teaches that when a person will stand in front of the Heavenly Court before he can enter the World to Come, the court will ask him several questions. One of them is "did you fix time for Torah study?" In Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 155:1), it speaks about our obligation to fix daily times for Torah study. We are instructed that even if we are faced with an opportunity to do a good deal, we should nevertheless make sure to stick to our schedule and study at the fixed time.
Put trust in G'd
In Mishnah Berurah, the Chofetz Chaim quotes a story from the Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 9) about a merchant who was called upon by some clients who asked him to bring out his goods. The merchant answered that it was his time for Torah study and under no circumstances would he allow himself to be disturbed. He added that whatever he was meant to earn would come his way in any case. The Talmud says that this is an example of a person who puts his trust in G'd, and no doubt G'd will provide him with his needs.
Fix a place
In his Letter of Repentance, Rabbeinu Yonah writes that everyone should fix a place in their house to Torah study so that whenever one has spare time the place will be available to sit down and study. Otherwise, one may waste a lot of time till one gets organized. It is not so significant what one studies, say Rabbeinu Yonah. The main importance is to utilize the time at hand constructively.
Seek silver and diamonds
The Chofetz Chaim (Torat Habayit Chapter 3) adds that for someone who is not able to establish a learning place at home should make it his business to go to a public study hall whenever he has spare time. He quotes from Mishlei (2:4-5): "If you seek it like silver, and search for it like diamonds, then you will understand the fear of G'd, and you will find the knowledge of G'd." Says the Chofetz Chaim, if a person realizes the value of every word of Torah study, one would not let oneself be distracted from pursuing it. Each word is like a diamond. If we were to hear of a good deal, for sure we would not let anything disturb us to acquire a precious item. This, says the Chofetz Chaim, is how King Solomon teaches us to look at Torah study.
Peace of mind
We have already discussed the second part of how to establish one's learning with "peace of mind" (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Balak: How to be calm like the students of the Kelmer Talmud Torah, June 24, 2010). Obviously, in order to have peace of mind, we must be able to overcome any worries and anxieties that may trouble us. This is easier said than done. There are many people with medical or financial issues or who are worried about their children's education. We must always remember that all we can do is to make an effort to the best of our ability, but whether we will succeed or not is entirely in the hands of G'd. What could be better than to do what G'd expects of us by studying Torah? In the merit of our study, we definitely have much more of a chance that G'd will help us in all areas of our life. If we manage to internalize this before we sit down to study Torah it will be easier for us to study with peace of mind.
The third part to establish one's learning is to make sure to review the material that one has studied. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 99a) teaches that someone who studies but does not review is comparable to a farmer who plants but does not harvest. Rashi (Shemos 34:32) quotes the Talmud (Eruvin 54a) who relates how Moses taught the Jewish people each commandment that G'd had instructed him. Moses would first teach his brother Aaron privately. After that, Aaron's two sons, Eliezer and Ithamar, would enter and with Aaron next to him Moses would teach them the commandment. Then Eliezer and Ithamar would take their seats next to Moses and Aaron, and the elders would enter to be taught the commandment. Finally, everybody would be allowed to enter and after the elders had taken their seats, Moses taught the commandments for the fourth time. Then Moses left and Aaron would repeat the commandment. After that, Aaron would leave and one of Aaron's sons would repeat it and then the sons would leave. Finally, one of the elders would repeat the commandment. In this way, everybody would be instructed the commandment four times.
Fifth time review
Rabbi Yisrael Yacov Kanievsky, known as the Steipler Gaon, explains that this teaches us that the first four times a person studies a subject, it is considered the actual studying of the subject. Only the fifth time is considered a review. From the Talmud (Chagigah 9b) we learn that it was common for people to review what they had studied one hundred times. Obviously, before the Oral Law was written down it would only be possible to remember what one had studied by constantly reviewing. However, nowadays as well, it is imperative to review what one has studied so that one remembers the material.
The importance of reviewing what one studies is actually incorporated in the Torah's commandment to study. In the first portion of Shema (Devarim 6:7) it says: "You shall repeatedly teach them to your children." Rashi quotes from the Sifri (34) that explains that this means that one must study Torah to the extent that if one is asked a question, one is able to answer immediately without any hesitation. The Torah continues: "And you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on your way." The Chofetz Chaim comments on this that this teaches us the importance of having a Torah library at home, since one can only study at home if one has books to study available. And in order to study while walking, says the Chofetz Chaim, it is important to know some parts of the Oral Torah by heart.
Learn while commuting
I remember how, when I was a child, our family would go on vacation during the summer. My late father would drive every day to work. He would often spend the time reviewing parts of Pirkei Avos with us children when we had reason to go along. Nowadays, many people spend hours daily commuting to and from work. This is a time that can be utilized for studying with books and CDs depending on the kind of transportation one uses.
Being well prepared
The last part, that the commentaries include in "establishing one's learning", refers to being well prepared when one teaches and shares Torah knowledge with others. We have already dealt with this subject earlier (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Behar-Bechukosai: Understand and retain with "organized lips", May 6, 2010). The Rambam writes in his "Essay on sanctifying G'd's name" that no one should get up and teach or speak in public unless he has reviewed what he wants to say several times. He quotes from the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 24:5) that even G'd repeated to Himself every commandment before instructing it to Moses. Obviously, G'd has no need to do so, and only did it in order to set an example for us. Rabbi Shmuel Rozovsky, one of the Roshei Yeshiva in Ponevez Yeshiva, was famous for his clear lectures where he would explain intricate subjects with amazing clarity. He once confided to one of his students that he would spend hours preparing his lectures. He pointed out that he would concentrate on three points in his preparation: first of all, what to say; secondly, how to deliver it; and most important of all, what not to say.
Many of our great Torah leaders conducted themselves in similar ways. They felt a tremendous responsibility to be part of the eternal chain that started at Mount Sinai. They therefore made sure that they would transmit their material in a lucid and clear fashion to ensure that the next generation would be able to continue this chain.
We are approaching the Festival of Shavuous, the time of the giving of the Torah. This is the most appropriate time for us to evaluate how we are doing to establish our own Torah study, and to make an effort to have a share in the transmission of the Torah to future generations. Only if we acquire Torah for ourselves and pass it on to our children can we guarantee the continuity of the Jewish people.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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