Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pray for Learning

I have just come home from my son's end of year performance (and what a performance it was - don't ask. Just let me tell you that I love him a lot).

The principle spoke told a story about R' Shimon Shkop, who said that once, while learning in Volozhin, he was unable to understand a certain Rashbam on Bava Basra. He broke down crying at the frustration of not being able to understand it. The Netziv walked in, saw him crying, and came over to find out what the matter was. When he realised that he was crying because he didn't understand a piece of Talmud he asked R' Shimon to show him what the problem was. When he saw it, the Netziv said to R' Shimon - "Do you know how many heartfelt tefillos I said at HaRav Chaim's grave to understand this Rashbam?"

The message of the story was that a person has to pray for success in their learning.

Now I love this principle to bits (he reminds me of the principle of my primary school, who knew every student by name, as well as their parents, siblings and anyone else who mattered. He also used to play an indoor version of tennis with us kids after school - and he would win!). But at first I though that his message was wrong. If you have a problem with your learning - shouldn't you keep learning and thinking about it until you come up with a solution? Why is crying and praying the correct response? Surely Torah is only acquired through breaking your head over it until you understand it? (I once had a chevrura who had a theory that if you didn't understand a piece of gemara, you should read it over and over until it makes sense. We never had to read it more than 100 times!). Doesn't the Gemara in Megilla say that if a person claims they have worked hard and not succeeded in their learning that it means they didn't work hard? Doesn't this prove that praying is not part of the equation?

Then I thought about it some more (I was there for over 4 hours, so I had time to think). Perhaps my problem is that I think it is an intellectual pursuit to learn Torah (and I love it). Maybe my approach is wrong. Since it is impossible to understand Torah without help from G-d, maybe I should spend less time getting a headache over it, and more time saying tehillim! (It goes completely against the grain to even write those words).

So now I don't know. Obviously we are talking about some combination of learning and praying, rather than spending all day praying and expecting the Torah to appear by itself. But it is too late for me to think now. And I need your input. Can one learn Torah by learning alone, or does prayer need to be an integral part of the daily 'learning' schedule?

(BTW it is obvious to me that in any other subject you need to pray for success - I think anyone who has ever sat an exam will agree with me on that. But Torah is different - isn't it? And even in other subjects, surely doing the time studying and revising must count for something too??)

- Your thoughts please.

Good night.

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