There is a program called “V’haarev na” created by Rabbi Dovid Newman that has brought the joy of Gemara learning to thousands of teenagers. The program expanded with “Kinyan Mesechta” to both adults and children. The concept is simple: review, review and review again! Not surprisingly, each time the person reviews, the Gemara becomes sharper and clearer, and—v’haarev na—more enjoyable. The key to a feeling of vibrancy regarding Torah learning is to keep Torah perspectives new.
Each year, Rabbi Newman puts on an event called the Simchas haTorah Event, in which over 600 boys come to a wedding hall to learn for three hours without interruption. Each table has ample snacks, so no need to get up! Everyone diligently reviews their assigned mesechta, some even completing it. When the three hours are up, the music and dancing begin. Next comes a lavish meal and inspiring speeches and testimonies from some of the participants on the joy of overcoming their learning challenges.
Torah learning that creates such excitement is a critical message in Parshas Va’eschanan. The Torah reading on Tisha B’Av morning was from this parsha. “Ki tolid banim... v’noshantam ba’aretz vehishchatem—when you bear children and grandchildren, they will be established in the land and become corrupt.” Rashi and Onkoles explain that the root of the word “v’noshantam’ is “yashan” (old), as in: “when you grow old in the land.” Rav Hirsch notes the difference between zaken—an elderly person—and the word yashan—old. A zaken is elderly, the opposite of young in age. Yashan is old, the opposite of new or fresh. The message of the reading on Tisha B’Av is the danger of becoming dull, losing a sense of vibrancy and freshness, be it in our Torah observance or regarding our living in Eretz Yisrael. This change in perspective is a part of human nature we must guard against. Rav Naftali Tzvi Berlin says that after a time, Jews will come to feel that their success in Eretz Yisrael comes from their efforts, rather than Hashem’s involvement.
The Torah portion read on Shabbos Nachamu is always Parshas Va’eschanan. “Nachamu,” read in the haftorah, indicates “comfort”—something we truly need after properly observing Tisha B’Av. But how does the parsha fit in?
Va’eschanan contains the first paragraph of Shema, which says “…veshinantam levanecha,” translated as, “You shall teach them thoroughly to your children.” Rashi quotes the Gemara that says the root of the word veshinantam is shein, tooth. We should learn Torah until the words are sharp in our mouths, so if someone asks you a question regarding what you learned, your mouth can articulate a clear, quick response.
The key to nachamu, to being truly comforted, is to find excitement and sharpness in our Torah!
Let’s face it. A major challenge for our Torah learning is to always review. Our minds tell us, “It’s boring, I learned this already.” But this is the advice of the satan, who wants to rob us of enjoyment in our Torah learning. In fact, our Torah learning is always enhanced by review!! Moshe Rabbeinu set up a mitzvah process to learn the weekly parsha twice in Hebrew and once in the Aramaic translation. When one makes a siyum (completion) on a Gemara, he recites the Hadran, which says, “I will come back.”
The mitzvah of veshinantam, to attain clarity, fluency and enjoyment in our learning, is specifically about teaching our children. Veshinantam levanecha—you shall teach your children. So why is the focus on our own learning? What’s the link?
The greatest mode of teaching is through modeling. If we want our children to learn Torah, we can’t just assign them a Gemara or Chumash and say, “learn!” The Torah says our learning must be fluent in our mouths, which comes from true commitment and constant review. This can only happen if we are excited and passionate about our learning. That passion is contagious. Our children will catch on…that Torah is a good thing.
When the Torah discusses “v’noshantam ba’aretz vehischatem,” it’s in relation to children and grandchildren, as they will pick up if we are positive or negative in our attitude toward achieving closeness with Hashem. Our Torah learning needs to be fresh and exciting; our families see the difference!
Let us leave the Three Weeks and look forward to the days of Elul by renewing our commitment to Torah and letting our children (and spouses, friends, neighbors…everyone!) see our passionate excitement toward Torah learning and Hashem’s mitzvos.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.