1) As an American, what does learning Torah do for me?
If you toil very much in the Torah’s words, the Holy One, blessed be He will remove the yeitzer hara from you. If you learn Torah when it is difficult for you, your reward is one thousand; when things are going smoothly for you, the reward is only two hundred. R’ Shimon ben Lakish states that anyone who engages in Torah study, afflictions keep away from him. Whoever engages in Torah study, the Torah makes him great, exalts him above all things and his wishes are granted by the Holy One, blessed be He.
2) Regarding Torah study:
a) Is anyone exempt?
Every Jewish male is required to study Torah, whether poor or rich, healthy or in pain, young or very old and weak. Even a poor person who lives from charity and makes the rounds of homes [to collect for himself] … must establish fixed times for study. Why? Because when they escort a person to his final Heavenly judgment after his death, the Heavenly tribunal says to him: “… Did you set aside fixed times for Torah study?”
b) Is it a daily obligation?
Rav Yisrael Meir HaKohein Kagan states that a yeshiva student is obligated on a daily basis to study written Torah, which consists of tanach and oral Torah, which consists of mishnah, gemara and halacha.
In addition, it’s very important to learn mussar every day, whether a little or a lot, because the greater a person is the greater one’s yeitzer hara. The antidote to the yeitzer hara is rebuke from statements of chazal. Just how important is learning mussar? Rav Avraham Danzig says, “It is crucial that one study Mussar daily, even if he must take away time from learning other portions of Torah, such as a chapter of Mishniyos or Gemara!” Therefore, one who is learning mussar would be exempt from learning mishnayos or gemara, but would still be obligated to learn halacha. Hence, based on the Rav Avraham Danzig and Rav Yisrael Meir HaKohein Kagan, the order would be mussar, tanach, mishnah, gemara and halacha.
Regarding, Tanach (i.e. Torah, Nevi’im and Kesuvim), how does one fulfill his obligation? Rabbeinu Tam says that Talmud Bavli contains Tanach and Mishnah. Therefore, studying Gemara fulfills this requirement. Still, one still has an obligation to complete the weekly Torah portion (i.e. parsha) with the congregation by reading twice from the mikra (i.e. Torah) and once from the Targum (Onkelos). It’s recommended that when one goes over the parshah he should use an ArtScroll Chumash Mikra’os Gedolos.
Is there another method of learning mishniyos, halacha and mussar? A Daily Dose of Torah by Rabbi Yosaif Asher Weiss, which includes: Torah, Mishnah, Mussar and Halachah etc.
A third method to determine what type of mussar and halacha to learn is listed by the Gemara: Most people are suspect of some form of thievery; a minority are suspect of sexual immorality and all people are suspect of loshon hora.
Why does the Gemara list these three? To teach us that these issues are neglected by most people. Meaning, one needs to learn Halachos of Other Peoples’ Money by Rabbi Bodner, Positive Vision by Rabbi Neuberger or The Practical Guide to Shmiras Ha’einayim by Rabbi Shaul Wagschal and The Laws of Lashon Hara and Rechilus.
For individuals, Rav Tzadok HaKohein Rabinowitz of Lublin gives us a litmus test to figure out what type of mussar and halacha to learn: “In that area in which his yeitzer hara pulls him the most, he is a most fitting receptacle to become exceptionally pure and innocent.”
Final ruling: One should ask his Rav or an experienced Rebbe for guidance in order not to have a burnout.
3) If one does not learn Torah daily, what will eventually happen to him?
The Gemara states, “Those who are bereft of Torah knowledge, become more foolish with age.”
4) Besides one’s obligation to study Torah daily, how does one determine what he likes learning on a personal level?
The Gemara and Rabbi Eliyahu HaKohein HaItamri state, “The main learning of a person is what his heart desires. If it’s gemara, derush, remez or kabbalah etc. then that’s what he should learn.”
5) What does man accomplish when he learns Torah on a universal level?
If not for Torah, Heaven and earth would not have been established. What does that statement exactly mean?
Let’s use Asher Yatzar as an example. In Asher Yatzar we thank Hashem that He created within man many openings and many holes. Then, we acknowledge that if one of them were to be ruptured or blocked it would be impossible to survive and to stand before our Creator. Similarly, if all the Jews around the globe would stop learning Torah for even a second, the earth would revert to nothingness!
Rav Chayim of Volozhin cites Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai who says the following:
When a man learns Torah and his lips utter words of Torah… he upholds the world. G-d is as happy with him as he was on the day He created Heaven and earth… When people are learning Torah, G-d is happy with His world. What’s more, G-d rallies all His angels and tells, ‘”Look what a holy nation I have on earth, for they make a crown for the Torah.” When the angels see their Master’s joy, they immediately proclaim, “Who is like Your people Yisrael, a unique nation on earth!” Yisrael is happy, for G-d gave them the Torah, which is the source of His joy and delight. Additionally, the Gemara says, “Fortunate is the one who toils in the Torah and who gives pleasure to his Creator.”
6) Retaining the Torah:
a) How does one remember what he learned?
One who makes his voice audible at the time that he learns, his learning will be retained in his hand. However, one who reads silently will forget quickly. Secondly, one must be constantly reviewing his learning in order that it will be kept safe in his innards [i.e. have it well memorized], so as not to forget.
Some people are good at multitasking. Nevertheless, the Gemara says that if a person learns many things at once, then [his learning] will diminish. Since he acquires more information than he could review, he will forget what he learns. However, if he learns a small amount at a time and reviews his learning, then he will accumulate knowledge. In addition, one who learns without structure cannot acquire wisdom. His learning is mixed up in his mind and nothing is retained with clarity. A person must refine his deeds if he wishes to fully benefit from the spiritual influence of Torah. When a person exerts himself in Torah or in any area of avodas Hashem to the best of his abilities, then Hashem grants him heavenly assistance and he will attain very great levels.
b) How many times should one review his material?
Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, also known as the Steipler Gaon, says at least four times.
7) Are there any food(s) which can facilitate one’s learning?
Meat and other nourishing foods can invigorate the body to enable a person to study Torah better.
8) When should one not review his learning?
Not during davening. There is a widespread misconception that learning is permitted during chazaras hashatz. HaRav Chaim Kanievesky shlit”a, says, “People do not receive a reward for learning then; on the contrary, they get an aveirah.”
9) What can cause one to forget his Torah learning?
- Not reviewing what one learns. As Avos D’Rabbi Nassan states:
A person can learn Torah for ten years and yet forget it all in just two. How is that possible? If a person sits idly for six months without review, he will begin to say of that which is impure that it is pure and vice versa. After twelve months without review, he will switch the names of the sages one with another. After eighteen months without review, he will forget entire sections. After twenty-four months without review, he will forget entire mesechtos. [After reaching this state] he will eventually sit silently and be inactive…
- Looking at immodest things. Therefore, Rav Eliyahu de Vidas forewarns us:
Everything that a person looks at, the image penetrates and fixes itself in his mind and when he comes to pray or to study Torah, those material images appear in his mind, and they damage and invalidate his thoughts and he will not be able to concentrate as required, because the eyes only see through the power that resides in the soul and the soul receives those images that come through the eyes and if the person looks at nakedness, he causes nakedness to penetrate in a high place.
10) The Yeshiva and Its Student
Ever wonder why a yeshiva has night seider? The Gemara states, “Night was only created for the purpose of Torah study.” During bein hazmanim, vacation time, a yeshiva student tends to be a little lax when it comes to having a learning seider. Therefore, if he didn’t learn a word of Torah that day, he should be meticulous in learning at night.
On Shabbos or Yom Tov, one is at home with his family. Yet, the Gemara informs us, “Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim were given to (Yisrael) only for the study of Torah…” If one wants to go for a walk with his friends etc., that’s fine. First, learn Torah for whatever duration of time that one is capable of. Why? Sholom HaMelech says, “The Torah of Hashem is perfect in restoring the soul and Shabbos is the day of the soul, not the day of the body.”
Dedicated in memory of Rivka bas Rav Eliyahu, Shlomo Avraham Moshe ben Yechezkeil Yosef, Rochel bas Menachem Mendel Boruch, Eliyahu ben Mordechai, Mashah Tzivyah bas R’ Shlomo Zalman, Altah Soshah Devorah bas Aryeh Leibush, Chaim ben Shmuel Efraim Zalman, Tuvyah Shlomo ben Naftali Tzvi HaKohein, Leah bas Leib Yehudah, Esther Perel bas R’ Shlomo, Miriam bas Zelig Shaul, Menachem ben Shimon, Menachem ben Zev, Sarah bas HaRav Yisroel, Zushe Yosef ben Shmuel Tzvi, Yosef ben Moshe HaLevi and all the other departed souls of our nation.
For the complete recovery of Chayah Malka bas Bas-Sheva, among the other sick ones of our nation.