Studying Torah? Focus and Pay Attention

Studying Torah? Focus and Pay Attention


torahSo, here we are: mid-August. Summer days are coming to an end. Kids are unpacking suitcases, packing up backpacks, and trying to remember how to live on minimal hours of sleep. Now, some people find these weeks of transition to be some of the most grueling weeks of the year. I, however, thrive on it.

Sure, the first day of school isn’t “fun” for anyone—you’re tired, you don’t know what to expect, and of course there’s always the possibility of getting lost and eventually having to interrupt class and walk your blush-red self all the way to the only seat in the back of the room. But at the end of that first day, after having a quick glimpse into the upcoming semester, that’s when I start to enjoy myself.

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Everything is fresh. After that first day of classes, I can go to some office supplies store and binge on notebooks that have never been written in, binders that have never been spilled on, and pens that have never been clicked. I can walk into class the next day with a perfect attendance record and the same grade as everyone else in my class. I set goals; I work hard; and I plan ahead. With stress at a minimum and novelty at its peak, I can enjoy my classes, and still spend time sharing summer stories with friends.

But then — no matter how many times I tell myself, “not this year”—things begin their decline. One justifiable class skip becomes two, and then four. Hours of sleep gets smaller, and as a result, so does attention span. Work gets harder, procrastination more routine, and eventually we all succumb to monotony and a general disdain for everything school-related.

And the way I see it, Torah study follows a similar pattern: an unfortunate decline from enthusiasm to monotony. Maybe something—a school course or a personal matter—motivates you to start learning and it’s all new and important and thought-provoking; and slowly “life” gets in the way and your plans to study get shuffled to the bottom of the your to-do list. Or maybe your story is more similar to that of my own:

I started my Torah studies at a young age. Sure, I was excited about the sacred text, but not because it was sacred. I was interested in the stories: a king fights a war, a groom gets deceived, and a man saves animals from a flood. I grew tired of it not because of stress, but simply because of the repetition. But in writing these articles, I’ve learned the extreme difference between repetitive and comprehensive.

In this week’s parshah, Ki Teitzei, nothing particularly “exciting” happens — certainly nothing that would have caught my attention as a child. Instead, this week’s parshah is simply a list of seventy-eight new commandments from G-d, more commandments than in any other Torah portion. Most of us have heard of them, and maybe even read them, but in the spirit of a new year and freshly motivated minds, I think it’s a good time to take another look at some of the mitzvot we may have looked over in the midst of a monotonous study session.

  1. “If a man has two wives — one beloved and the other despised — and they bear him sons, the beloved one and the despised one, and the firstborn son is from the despised one. Then it will be, on the day he [the husband] bequeaths his property to his sons, that he will not be able to give the son of the beloved [wife] birthright precedence over the son of the despised [wife]-the [real] firstborn son” (Deuteronomy 21:15-16).
  2. “You shall not despise an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not despise an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:8).
  3. “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out in the army, nor shall he be subjected to anything associated with it. He shall remain free for his home for one year and delight his wife, whom he has taken” (Deuteronomy 24:5).

I chose these for a few reasons, but my decision mostly came down to the fact that I certainly didn’t remember them. I’ve probably skimmed over them year after year, but with a fresh set of eyes, they’re each extremely interesting. Take the first one for example. Why is such a commandment even necessary? Is it right to instruct a father on which of his firstborn sons to give a birthright? Why is it that a man would be encouraged to keep a “despised” wife rather than simply divorce her?

The truth is, I could write different pieces on each of these three commandments so long as I keep a fresh mind. So, I’m going to use this article as a public testament: this year, I will strive to hold onto my interest in academia and my passion for Torah study; and when my enthusiasm starts to dwindle, I will go back and read this article.

I’m leaving this piece open ended. Before monotony kicks in, spend some time thinking about these three commandments; talk about them with your friends. Try to harness your passion and motivation, and if yours begins to dwindle later, come back and read it again.


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