Method of Learning Torah
by Rabbi Simcha Wasserman zt”l
Guidance from one of the greatest sages of our time on how to learn Torah properly.
(He was also the son of Rav Elchanan Wasserman, Hy”d a most profound talmud scholar and one of the main disciples of the Chafetz Chaim)
Transcripted, with permission from the audio tape: Maimonide’s Book of Knowledge from ohr.edu
Every Word Must Be Accounted For
Exact Transcription From Tape:
“The method of learning is, I have to read it correctly.
To know the meaning of each and every word correctly. And after learning a few times, I should be able to justify the existence of every word. The function of every word. That’s my minimum for understanding. Is that clear?
I’ll repeat it. Read correctly. Have the exact translation of the word. And then after learning it and repeating it a few times to myself, studying it, I should be able to defend the existence on the function of each and every word.
When I learn Torah, when I learn chumash, when I learn gemora, when I learn Rashi, there is not an extra word.
Now, Maimonides in his introduction to his commentary to mishna makes such a statement. He says, “I will watch myself to shorten my words. In order that the one who reads should not get lost.” Because we want the point. If you understand the point, you understand the whole thing. If you explain and you use too lengthy an explanation, there are parts of the explanation that are not essential, and somebody gets lost, what’s the sense? So when you learn Maimonides, each and every word. Learn Rashi, each and every word.
What to learn first? I would learn first, the first chapter of the laws of study of torah (Hilchos Talmud Torah) in Maimonides. then, a few chapters in hilchos deos.
I would learn it in hebrew. Every translation is an interpretation.
if I learn the original, my information is open. nobody tells me what Maimonides says. He talks to me directly.
So therefore, I would have my teacher write to me a linear, literal translation ,every word and it’s translation in english I would have him punctuate for me. and I would take homework to go over it until I can take the original and read it over myself and translate. Just one paragraph. It would take me a week!
The slower you start the faster you are going. In everything you learn, the foundation should be clear. And then it goes fast. And if you start rushing, you are never getting out of the rush and the confusion. And don’t be discouraged! – just one paragraph.” (directly transcripted, with permission, from the audio tape: Maimonide’s Book of Knowledge by Rabbi Simcha Wasserman)
It took me 10 years to fully appreciate these words – every word must be accounted for (after learning a few times). Finally, I’m starting to get out of the rush and the confusion. – the webmaster
Rabbi Simcha’s father, the legendary Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was once asked for a blessing by a yeshiva student who complained of abdominal pains that distracted him from learning . The Rosh Yeshiva replied: “Torah is superior to any blessing. If one has stomach pains, he should study. Have you ever see a pilot or tight-rope walker conscious of pain in any part of his body? In learning, too, one must concentrate to such a degree that his attention becomes distracted from pain.” (from Reb Elchonon, Artcroll pg.228)
More Guidelines in Learning Torah –
by Rabbi Simcha Wasserman zt”l
(heard directly from R. Akiva Tatz)
Rav Wasserman taught that the Talmud is designed to be difficult. It’s purposely crafted to be difficult. He said every sugya (discussion) is like a tight knot in a ball of string. When you disentangle that ball of string, you have to go slow. If you’re impatient, you make the knot much worse. You have to pick out each piece, slowly and unravel it and by the time, you’ve decoded the sugya it’s one beautiful straight piece of string. Then you see that it was crafted into the smallest and most compressed and most beautiful space possible (i.e. could not possibly be written with fewer or better words. this applies also to every Rashi, Tosfos, and the like). It takes patience, it takes technique.
Rabbi Tatz explains: What you want from learning is the toil and the difficulty. You want the process itself. You want to become Torah. Not the output information. That you can look up in the shulchan aruch. What you want here is to learn the process. Why? because gemora is designed to be difficult.You want to learn to think like Hashem. You want the power of the mind that gemora develops. Not the output conclusions. (see also tape tz70 intro to gemora
(from Rabbi Tatz) Have so many of those today. Those who never quite got it clear enough. Do you know how many people there are in the yeshivas today, who are sitting there year after year after year. Some of them can turn your head inside out with R.Chaim’s, but they don’t know what the gemora is saying.. They can tell you svaras (logic) this way and svaras that way, and say things but they don’t know what the gemora is saying. They never learned to put it together. (Rabbi Tatz recommends graphically representing a complex gemora, again see:tz70 intro to gemora)
When you go through a complex piece of gemora, and you’re a little bit vague on point 1, the rest is an amplification of vagueness, and by the time you get to the end, you don’t know what’s going on. Gemora has a nasty trick, a nasty bite. A bite, of allowing you to get to the end and thinking, more or less you sort of understood, but something is a little bit back. And when you walk out and try to tell your friend about it you realize you didn’t understand anything from the beginning. that’s the way it works. Gemora is built in such a way that unless you have it all, you have nothing.