Rav Berland’s Advice on Learning Torah
Continuing our translation of Etzot HaNachal, a compendium of advice drawn from Rav Eliezer Berland’s teachings on Likutey Moharan.
Chassidut is not messing around.
The Rebbe, Rebbe Nachman, says in Sefer HaMiddot (the Book of Traits) that learning Torah regularly is higher than everything.
- Each person should understand the true value of Torah learning from the Sefer HaMiddot, and this will change the way they see the whole world.
A person should summarize everything he’s learning, and then share his chiddushim (novel Torah ideas) with his friends.
- A person needs to write down and register every chiddush he hears.
- (When a person is learning Torah regularly), when he sees that he hasn’t become a gaon, a Torah genius, within two years, he falls into despair.
If it’s hard for you to study the Gemara the whole time, take a couple of smaller books and read a little from them, before returning to your Gemara.
The main thing, though, should be the Gemara.
Learn Gemara for 15 minutes, then read Siach Sifrei Kodesh for 5 minutes. Learn Gemara for 15 minutes, then read Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz for 5 minutes. Gemara for another 15 minutes, then spend 5 minutes on the Mesillat Yesharim. Gemara, and then afterwards the Lev David by the Chida. You need to learn Gemara for 15 minutes, and then learn another
If you suddenly find that this other book is incredibly interesting, then learn it for 10 minutes! No-one is going to hit you. The point is to immerse yourself in the daat, in the knowledge, and to not take your head out of the holy books.
There are people who learn fast, and who want to go through 7 pages, 7 dapim of Gemara a day.
This is better than wasting their time on meaningless things, but it still won’t give them a brain.
Today, there are small Gemaras, and all sorts of other small, holy books. You can learn on the go.
- You’re travelling to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – what are you going to learn on the way?
- It’s impossible to really be a Breslov Chassid unless you learn Torah, and your head stays in your holy books.
- Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Bender sat and learnt Gemara from morning until night.
A person needs to understand the wisdom of the Torah.
And to learn it with the commentators, including the Rashba, the Rambam, the Meiri, the Ritva, Ketzot HaChoshen, the Rishonim and the Acharonim.
- Just like it’s a big mitzvah to always be happy, it’s also a big mitzvah to always sharpen the mind. We need to say:
“Mitzvah gadolah to sharpen the intellect.”
- A person acquires an intellect when they sit with a Gemara, and they gobble up one Tractate after another; or when they sit with the Shulchan Aruch, and the read it together with all the commentaries.
- A person won’t feel any enthusiastic feelings [for Hashem] without developing their intellect. This is how people overcome their yetzer haras (evil urges).
Be like the Breslov elders of yesteryear!
All the Rebbe wants is for a person to not know anything, i.e. to not think that he know anything! To not know a thing about what is going on in the world.
The Rebbe said, “You should know, I haven’t come to change even the tip of the letter yud.”
Breslov is not changing anything! There is no change here, there is no change in the Torah of Israel, or in the Jewish minhagim (traditions), or how we learn in the yeshivas. There are no changes, here!
- Rav Natan says: “And this is from the aspect of the abundance of seforim (holy books) in this generations. And we need all of [these books].” Rav Natan says: “We need all of them!” Not that we should be a Breslover, and then forget about everything else. That we should sit with our feet up, munching sunflower seeds, saying ‘I’m a Breslover’.
You mess around all day, then say “I’m a Breslover!
I’m exempt from doing everything. I danced for a couple of hours, and now I’ve fulfilled all my religions obligations for the day.” No! Rav Natan told us, we need all of the seforim! These are the words of Moharanat, our teacher and Rabbi, Rav Natan.
It’s impossible to subdue the yetzer hara unless you learn Gemara in depth.
- If you learn the tractates of Bava Kama, Bava Metzia, Bava Batra, learn them with the Ketzot HaChoshen. And if you are learning tractates Yevamot, Ketubot, Gittin, or Kiddushin, learn these with the commentary called the Avnei Miluim.
If you lie on your bed with your earphones in, listening to Shas (i.e. a daf yomi shiur on the Gemara) – you’re not going to know Shas this way.
- Take an Arba Turim with a Beit Yosef (by Rav Yosef Karo), and the Bach, summarize it a little, and over the course of a week, you’ll have already completed the first chapter of the Tur, with the Beit Yosef and the Bach. After this, study some Gemara with the Rashba and the Rif, and this is how you’ll start to build your intellect.
The ‘bitterness’ of learning is only in the first hour.
And you keep stopping to take a break, then you’ll have a thousand times more bitterness. If one time he stops because he got a phone call, and then it happens again – he’ll have a thousand times more bitterness. This doesn’t happen to someone who learns non-stop, without interruptions.
- Every 15 minutes, raise your eyes to the heavens, so that you’ll know that the reason why we learn is to raise the Shechina up from the dust.
- When we’re learning Torah, the purpose of doing this is not to just stam, be some sort of Torah Gaon, or genius. The purpose is to really feel Hashem’s presence, and to get closer to God. And to feel love for Hashem – and Hashem’s love for us.
The moment that the Torah doesn’t change someone for the good, the bad within him will just increase and overwhelm him.
Before, when he wasn’t learning Torah, he knew he had some ‘bad’ in him, and in some way that knowledge would limit the ‘bad’. Because, when a person knows that ‘I’m bad’, he doesn’t actually want to be someone who is ‘bad’ like that. But, when he thinks that he’s ‘good’, and all of his ‘bad’, is only for the sake of heaven – if he screams at someone, it’s for the sake of heaven, if he persecutes someone, it’s only for the sake of heaven, if he speaks badly about someone, it’s only for the sake of heaven – then now, he has nothing stopping him from being ‘bad’.
If we learn Torah, and the Torah we learn doesn’t cause us to have better middot, (character traits) – i.e. we learn Torah, but we don’t become better people – this is Torah study that is not for the sake of heaven.
- It’s possible to make the acquaintance of many of the Amoraim in the pages of the Gemara, and we need to embrace all of them.
- When a person learns Gemara, this is truly ‘prostrating oneself on their grave’. When a person learns, this brings the Tanna’s ruach (spirit) back to his body.
- The real explanation of what it means to be an ish tam (a simple man, the description given to Yaakov Avinu), is that even if it’s hard for you to learn, you still continue. Regardless of whether you understood it, or you didn’t understand it, you still don’t budge from your Gemara.