Advice To Strengthen Torah Learning [#14589]

August 19, 2021


What is the advice on how one can learn Torah during a time where he feels like he’s in the dark, when he isn’t understanding his learning and he doesn’t feel connected to HaKadosh Baruch Hu? I know that the Sages state that “Mitzvos are not given for the purpose of gaining enjoyment”, and that a person has a responsibility to perform the mitzvos [regardless of how he feels]. But how can a person strengthen his Torah learning and have exertion in it, and to learn lishmah [for the sake of Torah learning], during a time when he feels a general sense of darkness?


It mainly depends on the approach that one has towards the mitzvah of Torah learning, from the start. A person has the abilities of thinking and emotion (intellect and heart), which he uses to connect to information. Whenever a person wants to connect to something, the connection must come from the appropriate source. The mitzvah of Torah study is about learning the wisdom of Hashem. At first when a person learn Torah, a person does not connect to the Torah through his heart. Rather, one first connects to Torah using his intellect. One simply connects intellectually to Hashem’s wisdom. Certainly one also gains a true connection to HaKadosh Baruch Hu through Torah learning, for “Hashem and His wisdom are one”, but when one begins learning Torah, he does not begin his connection to HaKadosh Baruch Hu from his feelings and heart. When a person merits to connect to the Torah through his intellect, by developing an intellectual desire to know the wisdom of the Torah, for Hashem’s deep wisdom, only after that can one also merit a “heart” connection [to HaKadosh Baruch Hu through learning Torah].

Thus, at first when one begins to learn Torah, he must intellectually connect with the words of Torah, and it is not the appropriate time yet to become involved with feelings of closeness with Hashem.
If a person first approaches his Torah learning by using his heart and emotions, it will not be a proper connection to Torah. It will also cause his intellect to be subservient to his heart. What will happen? At a time when his heart is opened to the spiritual and he feels the light of Hashem and he feels a connection to Him, his intellect will be working properly, but when his heart is not opened, his intellect will also be weakened, and it will be difficult for him to understand his learning. This is all because he is taking an “emotional” approach to Torah learning, which should have been preceded instead with an intellectual connection, not an emotional connection.

In contrast to the above, when a person has gained an intellectual connection for the actual words of the Torah, and his intellect desires Torah, his thinking will naturally work better, and he will be able to be stronger in his Torah learning and have exertion in it, even when his heart isn’t opened. Furthermore, a person who has such a connection to Torah learning will merit that which is described in famous words of sefer Eglei Tal, “The main mitzvah of Torah study is to be joyous, happy, and blissful in one’s Torah learning. Then one’s Torah learning will be absorbed in his blood, and after he enjoys the words of Torah he becomes attached to the Torah. This is not a problem of “Mitzvos were not given for benefit.”

Clearly, even when a person has gained an intellectual connection to the Torah, there will be times when his thinking is clearer, and times when his thinking is not as clear. However, those times of unclear thinking will be a lot less. The actual loss of the clear thinking will also be on a far lesser level than a person who doesn’t have an intellectual connection with Torah learning. When a person has gained an intellectual connection to Torah learning, his Torah learning will be much more consistent, because his intellect has become more stable and settled. This is in contrast to emotions, which are always changing.

During a time when one inevitably loses some clarity in his thinking, he should learn Torah on his current level. Sometimes a person needs to learn slower, and to make sure he understands each step of the Gemara, before proceeding to the next step. One can also write down the steps of the Gemara or whatever he’s learning about, and organize the material he’s learning in writing. This will require patience on his part. The more a person gains awareness to himself and of the changes to his state, the better he will understand how he can align his efforts in Torah study based on his current level and capabilities, and in turn, he can gain more patience towards himself.There are also situations where a person may need to learn “easier” material than what he is used to learning.

All of these factors will vary, depending on one’s current situation, and depending on who the person is. Therefore, whenever one implements any of this advice, it should first be carefully weighed and considered by the person to see if he should use this advice or not, so that it isn’t coming from a desire to just [‘take it easy’ and] be lazy, and so that this shouldn’t lead to any slackening off from Torah study, chas v’shalom.

To summarize, the advice here is that a person needs to establish the proper approach towards learning Torah in general. That is how a person can merit to exert himself in Torah study and reveal his unique part in Torah, with the help of Hashem.

This path of connecting to one’s Torah learning is not a short one. Many ups and downs will come along the way, just as with everything else that is inner and true, which a person is trying to acquire. But if one tries hard and he davens to Hashem for help, without giving up, of him it is said, “If one says “I tried and I found”, believe him.”

[For additional resources on the topic of “connection” and “lishmah” in Torah learning, refer to the shiurim on Nefesh HaChaim shaar IV, on the beginning chapters of Nefesh HaChaim: Gate IV, Chapter 2].