Monday, June 18, 2012

What should I study?

I have mentioned numerous times how important it is to study Scriptures.  I have been asked the question "what should I study?"  What's interesting about the question is that I asked the exact same thing years ago.  When I first arrived in Israel I met a very prominent Rabbi and asked for his help in setting up a study program.

The question of what I should study resulted in two basic answers.  One was to learn the details of my daily activities; in other words, studying everything that I do in a day to make sure that I develop good habits in serving Hashem.  Improving everything I do to serve Hashem is so important since it serves to meet my goals in life and my eternity and makes my goals more achievable and joyful.  This advice holds true even for someone who is observant from birth.  We tend to think that what we do every day is good enough and will get us the best possible Olam Habah (the World to Come).  But, by never being satisfied with our observance and wanting to improve every day, has a great impact on the outcome and brings an even greater sense of accomplishment.  I always found it lacking that Yeshivahs study very important subjects that need studying but ignore the basics.  Most observant Jews believe they are doing things correctly, out of habit, and that it is good enough.  Am I going to tell someone who has been praying everyday for the last 30, 40, 50 years that he needs to improve his praying ability?  The question that I like to ask is "are all your prayers fulfilled – do you get positive results with everything that you pray for?  If the answer is:  well, not everything, then I will be glad to tell that person (in a very nice way, of course), your performance is lacking and you have room for improvement.  This is just one example but it holds true for everything we do in a day.  Are the results exactly what we wanted?  If not, how many of us ask the question: "what should I do to improve – what should I study that can help achieve better results?  I thought I knew it all but, obviously, I am lacking something?  When we can be that honest with ourselves, we are on our way to maximizing this experience called "Life."  This goes hand in hand with my previous discussions on positive attitude and good habits.  They should be a high priority area of study and improvement, daily.

The other subject area that the Rabbi suggested was to study: what I enjoy the most.  Study of the Scriptures must be done with complete joy.  If I spend my time being fascinated by what I learn, my time is pleasant.

A very big consideration was my age.  I knew that I would not have the time to do everything.  When I was in the states I was involved with a study group that we covered two chapters of the Talmud in about 2 1/2 years.  We were not learning the Talmud; we were learning how to learn Talmud.  The time was well spent and was very enjoyable.  When we had a Siyum (which means "completion" and results in a celebratory get-together) at the conclusion of the two paragraphs, I gave a speech and stated that at this rate we should cover all of Talmud in about 375 years.

When I arrived in Israel I decided to join a group that studies Daf Hayomi.  Daf Hayomi is a program that was started in the 1920s where the study group covers one page (daf) of Talmud a day (yom).  In a 7 1/2 years cycle, the 2711 pages (5422 sides) of the Talmud are covered (This is not the entire Talmud since there are other Mishnahs that are not included).  This is not really learning the Talmud but gives a great overview of its contents.  After my first 7 1/2 year cycle, I had a very general overview of all of the Talmud and a great feeling of satisfaction that I have reviewed the Oral Torah.  Continuing with another 7 1/2 years cycle has allowed me to get even deeper into the material.  At my age this is a perfect way to get an overview of the oral Torah and feel a sense of accomplishment.  There are presently 100's of thousands of men worldwide doing this program.  Imagine that someone in South Africa and someone in the United States are working on the same exact page of Talmud every day.  Our present 7 1/2 year cycle will be completed next month and there will be a worldwide Siyum celebration in stadiums and theaters around the world to commemorate the occasion.  It is exiting and it gives Hashem lots of nachas (Yiddish for a high level of joy or blessings, pride especially from ones children – and we are Hashem's children).

The Daf Hayomi generally only takes about an hour a day.  The rest of my study includes the self improvement mentioned above and the fun portion of my learning – the subjects that I enjoy the most.  As you can see my background pointed towards interest in such subjects as Torah codes, numerology, the Holy Tongue and, of course my favorite, science versus scriptures.  I presently have a library of over 600 books many of which are dealing with these subjects.  It has been and continues to be a fascinating area of discovery for me.  Since it includes so many areas of discovery, I think I will need the 375 years that I mentioned above to exhaust the topics.  The most important accomplishment is bringing myself closer to Hashem everyday doing something that I love.

Some additional notes on my daily self-improvement routine.  It is not just studying the proper way to pray (which has been extremely successful in giving me a wonderful life); but, also improving my performance of the mitzvot, better and more effective repentance and any other subject that I need to improve my life in the service of Hashem.  I devote much time to learning the best ways to help my fellow Jews which includes passing on this information to them as well.  Teaching is a very rewarding endeavor and is what Hashem wants from us.  I have always known that when one person teaches, two people learn.  This is why the popular method in Yeshivahs and study groups is for two to work together in learning.  Teachers learn from their students and this blog has been just that for me.  I have said it before and I will say it again, I have been very impressed with the level of intelligence of my readers and, B"H, have learned from you.  The research that I put into this blog and the answering of your questions that you send me, has been a very important and enjoyable part of my daily learning experience.  Thank you.

Some references that I suggest for learning.  I have mentioned the Mishnah Berurah which is probably the best compendium in the world for the laws, observance and customs of Judaism.  There are thousands of reference books available but they are not on the same level.  The great Rabbis of today should always be the source of what is best and what is of lesser quality.  Proper books have the endorsement of the Rabbis (always at the beginning of the book).  These endorsement letters should give you the confidence in the quality of the book and how much it is the word of Hashem.  The true test of reference material is to know that the author is giving a compilation of Torah and scriptural sources and not personal opinion.

Another suggestion that I have used is the Guidelines series from Rabbi Elozor Barclay and Rabbi Yitzchok Jaeger.  They wrote books in a question and answer format that is easy reading, clear presentation and totally accurate (mostly from Mishnah Berurah and the Shulchan Arach).  They cover a variety of subjects and are very usable for the newly observant as well as the seasoned observant Jew.  My list of references is extensive but, here again, it depends on the level of observance that you personally possess.

One additional suggestion is for women.  As I am typing this post, my wife is in our dining room with about 15 women and a very learned Rebbetzin who teaches a weekly class.  There are several excellent classes given weekly but the best learning that my wife has enjoyed has been with a study partner.  Whatever the method (including reading on one's own), women should not miss the learning opportunity.  The mitzvot that pertain to women are so important to the family and the Jewish community that Jewish women should realize that their learning is vital and has been for the survival of the Jewish people.

The greatest part of my study program has been developing the attitude that I have a lot more to learn.  I look forward every day to my learning and treat it as an opportunity to improve.  I will never want to have the feeling that I have achieved my goal.  There is always more to learn and more to improve and that keeps my level of excitement at a high level.  I also know that the right attitude towards serving Hashem invites His help with everything that I do.  That is evident to me every day and keeps a smile on my face.  I joke with my fellow Jew when they point out to me how happy an individual I am.  I tell them that "if I didn't know any better, I would think this is Olam Habah."  Imagine how great it will be when I get to the real place (I can't imagine).


  1. I just could not depart your site before suggesting that I extremely enjoyed the standard information a person provide to your visitors?
    Is gonna be again steadily to check out new posts
    my web page :: chase your dreamsleon is awesome

  2. How about midot, religion really get's in the way and I am in the Charedi world all day long, I know their behaviour all too well. You want to "save the world" this is what needs to be taught and implemented, not worrying about micro managing the microscopic. When will we wake up?

  3. Sir.. we want YOU to know how much WE enjoy reading your blogspot daily. The information you give over to us.... is very deep information, and probably.... we are "tapping" into is from YEARS of your research, and we feel so very priviledged to be able to learn from what you have learned. Thank YOU...

    Studying Torah and It's Truths is so exciting and fulfilling. Can't imagine what it will be like to learn about our Creator in the Day of Moshiach. WOW!

    (Seems like it's getting closer and closer as we study and study.)

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Be aware that all I am is a compiler of information. It is the wisdom of the great Rabbis throughout history that you are enjoying and that they should truly get the credit for the way they brought Hashem's truth to the world. I hope to do a blog in the near future on details about Moshiach. I believe that we are close enough (lots of evidence) that we should all be thinking about and be exited about this coming event. The world is about to change -- B"H.

  4. I would humbly suggest the study of pnimius HaTorah, i.e., Chassidus, Kabbalah, to be included in Torah study. It is essential now more than ever to prepare ourselves before Moshiach comes who will be teaching us the secrets of Torah. I learn 30 minutes of Chassidus before learning Chumash with my study partner, and it gives us a deeper understanding of the Torah. Also, Chavos HaLevavos is also very important to help us work on our emunah and bitachon in Hashem.

    Kol Tuv,


    1. I humbly agree. I was going to include Musar shiurim but it didn't make it to my notes and therefore was forgotten. I have personally spent years learning Tanya and know that I am a better person as a result. Along with Chovos HaLevavos I recommend Pele Yoetz -- both excellent Musar seforim.