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Navi Family

We’d always been a “Navi family,” as I liked to call it, focused on learning independently


When my sister was in ninth grade, she got into trouble during Navi class. The teacher felt like the questions she raised bordered on chutzpah, and she called my father, a rav, to discuss the issue.

My father listened, promised to talk to my sister about her chutzpah, and then said, “So what did you answer her?” The teacher was floored. It hadn’t occurred to her to answer. To her credit, she began to consult with my father on difficult in-class questions for the duration of the year.

To be fair, my sister was going through an official Problem Child™ phase that year and probably was just out to cause chaos. But we’d always been a “Navi family,” as I liked to call it, focused on learning independently. I spent my childhood absorbed in the Family Midrash Says on Navi and Ishei HaTanach. We learned Navi with my father each Shabbos, and we’d often perform dramatic reenactments of the bigger moments in Jewish history.

I loved learning at home in a way that I never did at school. My teachers will tell you that I was well-behaved and attentive. I was, more accurately, so lost in a rich inner life that I wasn’t disruptive. I wrote novels during class, read books under my desk, and daydreamed my way through the day until the bell rang. I struggled to focus for more than a few minutes at a time. Now, I tell my students that I became a teacher because I don’t have the attention span to work a desk job. It’s probably true!

But this struggle to sit still and listen also meant that it was painful to attend shiurim as an adult. I’d sit determinedly in my chair, eyes fixed on the speaker — and invariably drift away. The one thing that had helped me in school — doing something else with my hands while I listened  — would be far too disrespectful at a shiur, and I wouldn’t try it.

There are few expectations of women learning once we leave school. It’s nice, sure, but it’s hardly a required part of everyday life. So I let myself drift away from learning to other pursuits. A chaburah here and there, fading away as our lives got too busy. A drashah in shul if I happened to be present. I was busy with my children, with work, with other intellectual pursuits. I only learned halachah at the Shabbos table, and I drifted away from Tanach. The little girl who’d curled up in corners with a Sefer Shoftim and dreamed of teaching Shmuel Beis was long gone.

And then, a few years ago, a coworker suggested that we learn Navi together through the Nach Yomi program. “It’s all recorded shiurim,” she assured me. “Very different from actually attending a shiur.” A shiur I could listen to while doing a puzzle or going for a walk? I’d give it a try.

Something in my heart opened again at that first shiur. I knew this. I remembered it all, and each pasuk quoted brought me back to childhood, when it all felt so fresh and new. I listened to shiur after shiur, often going ahead because I couldn’t stop. Sometimes I cried. The familiarity of it — the way it felt like home, like reclaiming something that had once been so important to me — was staggering.

I began learning Navi with my daughter, a little bit each Shabbos from the Family Midrash Says that I had snagged from my parents’ house. My son listened to the speakers with me, lingering after I’d sent him to bed and calling out commentary on the shiurim from the next room. We were a Navi Family once more.

There’s a wondrous sort of connection that comes with learning, with poking my head into a mesorah that I had disconnected from for so long. There is a fulfillment that comes with shiurim, with finding a way to learn at my own pace, in a position where I can enjoy it wholeheartedly.

A few days ago, while listening to a shiur, I was struck by the same question my sister had back in eighth grade. I voiced it aloud to my son, who thought it was interesting, and we called my father for an answer. His response prompted more questions and more answers until we were finally satisfied. Then I returned to my shiur, the speaker’s voice taking me back to that girl who was hungry to learn more.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 899)

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