June 10, 2022

Yevamot 72

There is a remark in today’s daf (Yevamot 72b) which serves as a powerful reminder about the need for time, thought, reflection and depth when studying, processing and understanding Torah – which is most certainly a necessary message in our generation which seems to celebrate instant, knee-jerk, and often shallow opinions.

Specifically, we are taught that it took Rav Yochanan three days to learn the entire ‘Torat Kohanim’ (which is the halachic midrash on Sefer Vayikra which provides the halachic deductions taught and drawn from each of the verses in Vayikra and which is also referred to as the ‘Sifra’), while it took him three months to fully understand this work.

Based on this differential between Rav Yochanan’s learning and understanding, numerous commentaries have explained that it often takes at least thirty times longer to understand the deep meaning of a concept or text than it takes to read and learn it – which is one of the reasons why, once I learn the daily daf, I try and dwell on one teaching or concept for a prolonged period of time – with my goal being to try and understand that particular teaching or concept, rather than presuming to think that I can understand everything with the amount of time that I give to my study of the daf.

Unfortunately, in our instant world, there are those who think that they can understand things as quickly as they can read them, and the lightening speed with which people can find Torah sources on digital databases and create sourcesheets on online platforms can further delude them into thinking that the collation of source-material is equivalent to the understanding of those sources.

Yet while I am a passionate advocate for the harnessing of technology for the sharing and teaching of Torah, I am an even more passionate advocate that those who share and teach Torah understand what they are teaching, and I believe that the 1:30 ratio mentioned in today’s daf serves as good advice to us all.

So – practically – how long should a Torah teacher spend preparing a shiur? This question is beautifully answered in the reply that Rav Soloveitchik gave to someone in 1975 when the Rav was 72 years old, who asked how long the Rav spent preparing a good shiur, to which the Rav responded, “seventy-two years”. And upon being asked what he meant, the Rav explained that “somehow, the sum-total of one’s learning and life’s experiences should be reflected in every shiur” (nb. this story is recorded in R’ Aaron Adler’s ‘Seventy Conversations in Transit’ pp. 71-72).

Ultimately, while basic reading may be quick and easy, real understanding takes real time – and in some cases, it takes nothing short of a lifetime.

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