Ask The Rabbi: Depressed | Rabbi Dovid Abenson

Dear Rabbi Abenson,

I’m an Avreich in yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael. However, I still feel my skills at learning are very very weak, from reading to translation. It leads me to be depressed and feeling unaccomplished. I have this desire to be able to open a sefer and be able to learn it and educate my family.

I was looking at your website but don’t understand if you can help or how you are able to help.

Would love it if you could contact me.

Thanks

*Yacov Black

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Dear Yacov,

Thank you for your email. It is heartening to hear that you recognize your deficiencies and have a sincere desire to improve. This is a crucial step to reaching your goals.

Firstly I want to tell you that you are not alone. Many Avreichim have the same issues. They feel no accomplishment in their learning and get fed up. Many leave Kollel or yeshiva to go out to work. Some even become famous frum singers!

I firmly believe that Torah is sweet and Torah learning is intrinsically pleasurable. If a person is losing that taste for learning, the most likely reason is that they are missing one or more of the essential skills that are fundamental to learning. Yes, there is toil in Torah, but it should be a satisfying toil. Lehavdil, assembling a 5000 piece jigsaw or running a marathon is also really hard, but for one who has the requisite skills or practices these activities, though immensely challenging, will be pleasurable. For those who lack the skills, however, it’s torture.

What you describe in your letter – feeling depressed and unaccomplished – is a sign that you are missing some skills. If you had those skills, you could feel challenged without feeling despondent.

In your letter, you describe your vision of where you would like to get to. You would like to be able to open up a Sefer, learn from it and share what you learn with your family. If you could do this of course learning would be sweet. There is no greater pleasure. The good news is this goal definitely can be realized.

Let me first share with you a couple of true stories to illustrate.

A lady in Lakewood once contacted me. She had read one of my articles in The Lakewood Scoop and thought perhaps I could help. She went on to explain that her husband had been learning in a well-established Lakewood Kollel for the past 10 years. He kept three sedorim a day with chavrusos. On Shabbos, however, she had observed that her husband would never even open up a sefer. What could be the problem?

“If I had to hazard a guess,” I told her “I would say he has problems with reading and translation, that’s why he won’t learn from a sefer”. Naturally, she was shocked by my suggestion and incredulous that her husband could have been in Kollel for so many years if this was his problem. How is such a thing even possible?

I explained how it is quite possible to make it through the Kollel system as a “passive” learner. The passive learner lets his chavrusa do all the reading, whilst he mumbles in an undertone alongside him, giving the impression of reading. He grasps the concepts sufficiently to talk “outside” the text, despite not being fully able to read it unaided inside.

“Don’t just rely on my guess, though”, I told her. “If you can persuade your husband to come for an evaluation, we can get to the bottom of his issues and help him improve too”.

She was successful in convincing him to get help. I evaluated him and lo and behold my guess was correct. He admitted that he had to stop kidding himself that he can learn. He cannot learn by himself at all. He told me that he had just made a bris for his son and said a shtickle Torah at the Seuda.

“Everyone was so impressed but I knew it was a lie. I was just showing off. If you have a good head and speak well as I do, you can fool people that you know some Torah. Everything I said was based on something I read outside. I read nothing inside. It was just a show.”

I gave him a crash course in Biblical Hebrew and upgraded his learning skills. After we worked together for several sessions, he proudly told me that he could read and understand the משנה ברורה for the first time completely independently.

I worked with another Kollel fellow who came to me because after 10 years learning in Kollel he felt he was losing the enjoyment of learning Gemara.

I evaluated him. His reading was very good. The problem was with translating. Many learners translate by”feeling the text”. They translate superficially, getting the gist of the sentence, but not obtaining the true clarity achieved with a grammatically precise translation. When someone else is explaining the Gemara, this is sufficient for following along. When it comes to independently learning a new Gemara, however, it will be a real struggle to make sense of it.

I gave him a crash course in Gemara. After we completed the course, I challenged him to open up any Gemara he hadn’t learned yet. He chose the Gemara in חולין that happened to be laying in front of me. He understood it right away with clarity. He could not believe the transformation.

Yacov, I hope you were encouraged and inspired by these stories. I could tell you many more like these. Your struggles are certainly not unique. Nor are your problems without remedy. So please don’t give up!

To address the second part of your question you asked how I would be able to help.

An evaluation can accurately pinpoint where your learning deficits lie. Any fundamental skill that was not adequately acquired, can hamper a person’s Limmud HaTorah. It could be anything from a tendency to mix up certain letters, problems with whole word reading, or poor grammar and translation skills.

Once your particular difficulties are identified, you can take the relevant program that will be targeted towards your specific needs. The program will provide a methodical framework for acquiring and improving the missing skills. The process is relatively fast, and fun. It is gratifying to see improvement. Best of all, you will be able to open that sefer, learn and explain what you learn clearly and confidently to others.

People often hesitate to seek help in their learning because they are embarrassed to admit they are struggling. In truth the ability to recognize an issue is courageous. That is why I commend you, Yacov, for writing. In my practice, I have seen everything from elementary school students falling behind, to seasoned educators looking to upgrade their skills, from struggling teens losing their direction to baalei teshuvah making up for the lost time. I have even worked with Maggidei shiur and Roshei Yeshiva, giving them skills and tools to better teach their talmidim and to improve their own cheshek in learning.

There is certainly no shame in having a sincere desire to improve. Your vision of being able to learn with ease and teach your family is beautiful and should inspire us all.

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ASK THE RABBI is a new forum where readers are welcome to submit all questions on subjects regarding Jewish education to Rabbi Abenson and he will answer them in a timely fashion through TheLakewoodScoop.

Rabbi Dovid Abenson can be contacted at: Tel. 15147393629, Cell/Whatsapp 15149935300, Email: [email protected]

Rabbi Abenson is the founder and director of ShaarHatalmud, a unique yeshivah-based online program, which incorporates learning all Kodesh subjects, from Kriah up to learning Gemara, Rishonim, and Shulchan Aruch. He also conducts evaluations, remediation, and training, and consults with Roshei HaYeshiva and Menahelim to improve students’ underdeveloped learning and textual skills.

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