Making Time for Torah Learning – Practical Tips

Posted by Tovah Leah Nachmani on June 18, 2015
Topics: Torah Study, Reflection, Philosophy of Education, Practices, Jewish Education

Who’s Carrying the Torah?
The noisy din of enthusiastic learning from this year’s student community has faded in my ears…

The bustling Pardes beit midrash, lined with books from wall to wall, filled with chevruta learners, reverberating with energetic voices of dialogue and dissent, lingers for me – as a memory.

Enjoying my freedom
Since the school year at Pardes ended, every day for me has been overflowing with meetings, travel, appointments, errands, family and friends.  Many things I struggled to find time for during the year at Pardes.

Not yet engaged in a new routine, I admit that I have been thoroughly busy and enjoying my freedom!

Despite the refreshing liberty, the satisfaction of “getting things done”, and the gift of time to spend as I choose – I’ve noticed a subtle undercurrent of heaviness pulse through my veins, as if I’ve lost a bit of my life force

Without Torah framing my morning and evening, my inner light seems dimmer. Without regular learning, my soul feels meeker.

Without a learning community, my distance from God looms greater.

Why I learn Torah
I learn Torah for the way it expands my thinking. For its wisdom and complexity. I learn Torah for the enhanced trust in G-d and trust in human potential it strengthens in me.  I learn Torah to keep my midot in check.

I thought my desire for these things would be enough to keep me from missing even a day of learning.

But it turns out that I need an additional reason for creating a regular learning routine in my life.

Like brain surgery
In the words of Israeli brain surgeon, Dr. Shlomo Jackson, who makes time for daily Torah study, “Would I take myself seriously if I showed up in the operating room only once a week? Would I let my students perform surgery if they weren’t exposed every day, day in and day out, to the repetitive acts of cutting and sewing up blood vessels in the surgical process?”

“The same is true,” says Dr. Jackson, “for learning Torah.  The repetition of daily interaction with Torah makes all the difference between liking Torah and living Torah, between treating the Torah as something “nice” and treating it as life sustaining.” 

Sustaining life
Ironically it is Hillel, the Mishnaic sage commonly associated with tolerance and love of others, who harshly claimed: 

  • He who does not study is deserving of death; (Pirkei Avot 1:13)

While I do not know with any certainty what Hillel was thinking when he said this, I can flip it to the positive:

I do know that my inner life force, my receptivity to holiness and to soulfulness is connected to the Torah I learn and the people with whom I choose to learn it.   Perhaps one who does study is – in this sense – deserving of life.

I also know that how I treat myself and others largely depends on the Torah I learn.  If I am not becoming a better person through learning Torah, I need to examine the way I integrate the Torah I learn, and with whom or from whom I am learning it.

Carrying the Torah
The Rabbi and teachers of my esteemed Rabbis and teachers, the recently deceased Torah giant and Rosh Yeshiva Rav Lichtenstein ztz”l, would exhort his students at the beginning of summer break to not only make time for learning, but to make significant time to learn Torah! To create a daily learning routine.

The Rav would ask, “What kind of Torah would we carry into the world if we studied only in our free time, or only when we feel like it??

In the name of the sages, I will be even more explicit, at the risk of bursting my own bubble of freedom this summer.

Creating a daily routine
Shammai the Mishnaic sage gave two practical directives:

  • Make your study of Torah a regular activity.
  • Promise little but do much. (Pirkei Avot 1:15)

Promising little, I hope I can set a goal to make Torah study a regular activity, to carry the Torah this summer and not let it drop.

Dropping a real Torah scroll, G-d forbid would cost us 40 fasts.

Dropping the Torah we have learned could cost us even more.

Before getting started, I will ask myself:

  1. When will it work to schedule a time for learning each day, whether in a class, a chevrtua or alone?
  2. Do I want to learn some new Torah or solidify what I have studied by reviewing something I already learned this year. 
  3. When will I learn alone and when will I choose a class or chavruta?
  4. How will I carry the Torah I learn into the world?

    1. By leaving 10 minutes to talk about or to write a personal reflection about one meaningful point after a learning session is over.
    2. By identifying what I deem important and sharing it or teaching it to someone. Passing it forward.
    3. By practicing or acting upon something I learn.

I want to take the summer “plunge” and make my learning regular, routine and reflective.

After writing this, I hope I will merit to “Say little and do much.”

About Tovah Leah Nachmani

Tovah Leah has been teaching Bible, Liturgy and Prayer and Relationships at Pardes for 14 years in the Summer Program and eight years as a full time faculty member. She holds a B.A. in Near Eastern Language and Literature and Religious Studies from Indiana University and a Teaching Certificate in Tanach and Jewish Thought from the Michlelet Herzog Seminary in Gush Etzion. Click here to read more.

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