Friday, February 12, 2010

Mishpatim 5631 First Ma'amar - Practical Application

This essay is based on Mishpatim 5631 First Ma’amar.  Clicking on the previous words will bring you to the ma’amar on the blog. (Opens in new window.)
Many people find reviewing what they’ve already learned tedious.  It seems that it’s easier and more exciting to learn something new than review what we’ve already learned.  However, the Sfas Emes teaches that the words of the Torah have layers of meaning. 
The Sfas Emes teaches that with the proper approach, we can gain new insights and even new knowledge each time we learn the same thing.  This applies even to seemingly “non-spiritual” laws and sugyos.  For this reason Chazal tell us specifically that the משפטים/civil laws were also given at Sinai in order to stress that even these seemingly rational laws have deep spiritual meaning.  Even sugyos that deal with civil law that are reviewed in a certain way take on new and deeper meanings that  what was originally understood. 
When we understand and internalize this, review takes on a completely different meaning and becomes a completely different process.  Usually, review is quick and for the purpose of remembering the material better.  Review of Torah is completely different.  Of course, reviewing Torah also helps to remember.  The primary purpose of review, though, becomes to gain new insight.
In addition to understanding that God wants to uncover the hidden meaning s of the Torah, there are techniques for helping us review properly.  I learned one such technique from the sefer Kerem Yehoshua written by Harav Yehoshua Cohen.  It’s a short but powerful sefer that I strongly recommend.  It may not be available in stores, however, anyone who wants to get a copy, please send me a note and I’ll get it for you from the author.
In short, the technique for reviewing properly is straightforward:
  1. The first time you learn a sugya, learn several lines of the Gemara well enough to repeat the dialog without having to look at the Gemara.  (Do not attempt to memorize the words of the Gemara.  The key here is understanding the dialog well enough to repeat it, not memorization of words which is something else entirely.)
  2. Learn the next several lines in the same way.  Learn until the end of the sugya in the same way however do not go beyond one daf.
  3. Repeat the entire sugya without looking into the Gemara.  If you get stuck, look in to remind yourself and then continue.  Do it until you can repeat the entire sugya without looking into the Gemara. If you find that a daf is too long, stop at an amud.
  4. Now repeat the entire process.  Learn from the beginning of the sugya slowly the same way you learned it the first time through.  Learn it as if you were looking at the sugya for the first time.
  5. Repeat the process again.  Learn from the beginning of the sugya without hurrying.
As you go through this process, particularly when you are saying the dialog without looking into the Gemara, pay attention to debates and places where more than one answer is brought for the same question.  Try to understand each side of the debate, why they hold the way they do.  When more than one answer is brought to answer the same question, try to understand if there are halachic ramifications for the different answers. 
If done properly, your understanding of the sugya will be radically different after the third time than it was after the first.  Even though you haven’t looked at any commentaries besides Rashi.
You may say that of course, after reviewing the sugya well a few times, you will have a better understanding.  It’s not just a better understanding.  It’s a deeper understanding.  You will find that you are asking questions on the sugya that may be found in the meforshim or even novel questions.
Learning an entire Masechta this way gives a completely different understanding of the Masechta.  People who learn this way, start asking many questions from different sugyos, questions that are often found in Tosefos.
This is truly an amazing way to learn.  It seems to me that it is possible only because of the idea that the Torah itself has layers of meaning, a concept that is not found elsewhere, certainly not to the extent that it is found in Torah.
I remember a course I took in English literature.  The professor was interested in the deeper meanings, the symbolism that the authors intended.  Lehavdil, the Torah has many many layers of meaning. 
Here we see this applied even to the relatively straightforward process of understanding a sugya.  We have not touched upon the spiritual underpinnings of the sugyos.
Rav Nosson, a talmid muvhak of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, wrote a sefer called Likutei Halachos.  The sefer follows the Shulchan Aruch and shows the deeper non-pshat meanings of the Halachos.  It’s fascinating and possible only because of the concept expounded upon in this ma’amar of the Sfas Emes that the Torah contains layers of meaning and that even the “non-spiritual” Halachos have deep spiritual meaning.  
Hatzlacha and please try the technique above and drop a line to let me know how it went.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Hey Moshe, very interesting blog!

I was wondering if you could help me get a copy of Kerem Yehoshua.

My contact info is