June 3, 2020

Brachot 22


Today’s daf (Brachot 22a) contains perhaps one of the most exquisite ideas that I have ever encountered in the Gemara –  an idea that I love thinking about, and a principle that I hope informs how I learn and how I teach. In hebrew this idea is often referred to as לימודה כנתינתה, which in english translates as ‘learn Torah in the way that it was originally given’), and the way I understand this concept on a basic level is that we should learn Torah with the awesomeness in which we initially received it on Mount Sinai.

At the same time, I believe that לימודה כנתינתה has even further implications than those explicitly stated in the Gemara. For example, just as the receiving of the Torah was a multi-sensory experience, I believe that Torah education should ideally be multi-sensory, and just as the Torah was both a collective and uniquely individual experience, so too I believe Torah study should be today.

Significantly, the first long and technical shiur that I ever prepared and delivered centred around this Gemara. I was 23 at the time and I decided to discuss this theme and some wider implications at a local Tikkun Leil Shavuot. It took me weeks to prepare the shiur and this involved consulting many sefarim and borrowing the Gra’s chiddushim on Massechet Brachot from my Rav, Dayan Lopian. Moreover, as the year was 1999, hebrew-word processing was not available to most people, the internet was in its early stages, and there was no such thing as sefaria, not only did I type out all the sources in my 4-page handout (see http://bit.ly/2U33sgO), but I actually did so backwards! (because my wordprocessor could only operate from left to right).

I mention this because, while there are some more recent shiurim that I’ve delivered whose comprehensive source list I do not always remember off hand, I remember this one very clearly: (i) because of the importance of the topic, (ii) because when you research sources as a young person for a public shiur you make sure to learn them very well to make sure you’ve understood them correctly, and (iii) because when you take the time to type them out letter by letter because you have to type backwards, you find that you come to remember things better.

Today it takes me often just a few minutes to produce a daf mekorot that looks far more attractive than this one. Still, we should never forget that how ideas are learnt and communicated generally has an impact on how they are remembered – which is ultimately the message of לימודה כנתינתה.



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