The Divrei Torah in this section have been translated by Rav Reuven Ungar, Director of Alumni Affairs
Do You Know How to Learn?
By: Rav Aryeh Hendler
Chasidim relate that once the Kotzker rebbe noticed that a certain student was satisfied with himself. The Rebbe proceeded to inquire from him if he knows how to learn. The student replied in the affirmative. The Rebbe asked him if he know the meaning of the word "Torah". The student was silent. The Kotzker Rebbe informed the young man that Torah guides man (hora'ah), it teaches man. "But you think that you can learn on your own; if so, you haven't learned a thing .."
Analysis: The student suffered from excessive pride (ga'ava). This sin afflicts numerous talmedei chachamim. Lea rning Torah in depth requires one to discern, to analyze and to think creatively. An individual who acquires these capabilities in addition to wide knowledge he is acknowledged to be a talmid chacham. Nurturing one's intellectual abilities, debating opposing views, publicly expressing novel insights can lead an individual to fall prey to ga'ava.
The query "do you know how to learn?" is predicated upon the stature the yeshiva world bestows upon one "who knows how to learn". The crowning achievement of learning in yeshiva is to reach this accolade. This implies the ability to understand the gemara and early commentators (Rishonim) without assistance; to raise difficulties, to resolve them, in accordance with logical thought processes.
Apparently, the student in question indeed knew how to learn. This generated his sense of self-satisfaction
At this stage, the Rebbe directed the discussion to the meaning of "Torah". The focus has moved from the individual in question to the subject matter. Granted, the student learns; the question is what is he learning. A person may be capable of knowing how to successfully play chess and to solve mathematical problems. Is this student cognizant that he is learning Torah? The Kotzker Rebbe emphasizes that the young man is engaged in the learning of Torah; thus the query to the meaning of Torah.
The student does not respond. He does not comprehend the depth of the question. A problem exists- the Torah that is being learned is not genuinely impacting the personality of the student.
The Rebbe reveals that the essence of Torah is instruction. Rather than emphasizing the abilities of one who st udi es Torah, we must focus upon the Torah that teaches us. The alternative to ga'ava is to totally subjugate oneself to the Torah. We must listen to what the Torah is telling us. "The question is not how much Torah you have learned; rather, how much has the Torah taught you?" The Torah is not a science; man is intended to subjugate himself to the Divine messages that the Torah contains.
At times a person may approach the Torah through the prism of his personality and human thought processes. This is not the way, teaches the Rebbe of Kotzk. We must initially listen to the Torah on its own terms. Accepting and learning the Torah on its own terms is the requisite for "knowing how to learn".
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