Turning the Routine of Nach Yomi and Daf Yomi into a Ritual
How do we turn our routines into rituals? We are fortunate to have a group of men and women in our community who study daf yomi, a page of gemara each day, and a group of men of women who study nach yomi, a chapter of nevi-im or ketuvim each day. Every once in a while, when the group finishes a masechet or sefer, as the case may be, I announce in shul and/or post on social media a mazal tov to the group for completing the masechet or sefer.
The reason why I do this is to emphasize to those who study on a daily basis how much I as a community rabbi appreciate what they are doing for our community. By committing themselves to daily Torah study, they model the value of routine in the area of Torah study as a key ingredient of religious growth. A routine of Torah study, whether it’s a daily page of gemara or a daily chapter of nach, provides structure, and religious structure is one of the most important ingredients to a balanced spiritual life.
I was so heartened last Shabbat when a woman told me that she recently started studying nach yomi and she didn’t anticipate the gaps in her learning that she has filled from her daily study. She has learned a tremendous amount and her knowledge has made her appreciate certain daily prayers and the haftorah each and every Shabbat. It is so wonderful to hear from someone who is committed to this holy routine and who is excited about this routine. And the truth is, what this woman does is not merely a routine. It is a ritual. See, the difference between a routine and a ritual is that a routine is simply a regular, structured action that you may complete each and every day, but a ritual is a more meaningful practice which has a real sense of purpose.
And that is the challenge that many students of nach yomi and daf yomi face, the challenge of transforming these routines into rituals. I’ve heard from a number of people who study daf yomi or nach yomi that they struggle to find meaning each and every day when they study. Sometimes they study topics that are of interest and sometimes what they study doesn’t seem that meaningful and relevant and they don’t have the time to delve into the material to make it more meaningful and relevant.
But we are challenged to do just that. This week we will read about the revelation of the Torah at Sinai. Yet, the Torah does not tell us the date of this event nor is there a holiday that the Torah explicitly connects with this event. It is left up to the rabbis to connect this event to the holiday of Shavuot. The Kli Yakar (Vayikra 23:16) explains that God did not want us to identify one day as the day when we received the Torah. Rather, each and every day we must feel the newness of the Torah and re-experience the revelation of the Torah at Sinai. In other words, each and every day we need to ensure that our Torah study is not a routine, but a ritual, and we accomplish this by studying it with a sense of purpose.
Of course, the question is how do we accomplish that. Allow me to offer two suggestions. First, end each learning session with an exit ticket. What is an exit ticket? Many educators make use of an exit ticket as an ideal way to end a class. An exit ticket is a question that students answer at the end of class that should require only a brief time to respond to, certainly not more than five minutes, but perhaps only one to two minutes. For example, name one important thing your learned in class today? How can what we learned be relevant to you in your daily life? Based on what we learned today, what more would you like to know?
We can incorporate the “exit ticket” model to our daily learning. After spending thirty minutes to an hour studying a daf of gemara or a chapter in nach, maybe we should spend two to five minutes reflecting on one or two new ideas that we learned today, or how can we specifically connect and make relevant our learning to our daily lives. By intentionally thinking about what we studied, we give our learning a sense of purpose and we turn our Torah study routine into a ritual.
Secondly, it is okay if we have some trouble finding meaning each and every day when we study a daf of gemara or a chapter in nach. The Kotzker Rebbe had a brilliant interpretation of an odd phrase in the first paragraph of Shema. The phrase is, “v’hayu ha-devarim ha-eileh asher anochi metzavcha hayom al levavecha,” that “these words” that God commands us today should be placed on our hearts. “These words” refer to God’s command to love Him with all of our heart and soul. But what does the odd phrase of placing these words “on our hearts” mean? What are we actually supposed to do? The Kotzker Rebbe explained that we cannot simply place Torah within our hearts. Sometimes our hearts are sealed shut and are not open to accept the beauty of Torah. Sometimes we are not in a state of mind to feel connected to God in a deep, meaningful way. Sometimes the only thing that we can do is to continue doing what we are doing. Sometimes the only thing that we can do is to continue performing acts of love and placing them on our hearts, waiting for those moments when our hearts break open and the Torah seeps in. Spiritual growth takes time and effort. Let’s continue the routine, try to consciously find purpose in our Torah study each and every day, and understand that something the spiritual payoff may not happen immediately. When we do this, then we turn our routines into rituals.