We each have our own private quests, those goals we tried — or keep trying — to achieve. As we struggle and strive, the process becomes its own destination
Project Coordinator: Rachel Bachrach | Digital Artwork: Meital Ashkenazi
ArtScroll’s Eruvin 2 sits on my shelf, the burgundy placeholder marking two days behind today’s daf. That’s where I’m up to. I’ve started daf yomi four times before over the last decade. This is my fifth attempt.
Most evenings I set myself up at the dining room table with a herbal tea, usually peppermint with one Stevia. I open the Gemara and turn on Rabbi Zecharia Resnik’s shiur. The tea is piping hot and cools off as the shiur progresses. The sweet dregs at the bottom are my reward when the shiur is complete.
My old yeshivah self would have scorned this effort. Daf Yomi app and a tea? A herbal tea?
I studied in yeshivah for ten years after high school, the last five years in BMG of Lakewood. The decade of learning was intense. I wasn’t the first one in the beis midrash or the last one out, but I was definitely a serious student. Lomdus was not my thing, but learning was. Multilevel abstract reasoning didn’t come naturally, but diligence and perseverance came easily, and I held my own.
After Lakewood there were a few years in an out-of-town kollel, and then I went to work. I opened a business that consumed all my time, energy, and headspace.
I fell out of learning for a few years.
After that, learning became difficult for me. Very difficult. Back in Lakewood, I had completed Shas, some b’iyun, mostly bekius, and had learned it well. But after a few years of work, with pressure, stress, and unrelenting problems following me from morning till night, I could no longer concentrate on a sugya. I was trying to learn, but it wasn’t the same.
I started daf yomi, but when the going got tough, I gave up. It was too painful. I would sit at the gemara, but my mind was all over the place. My key vendor was raising his prices, an expert employee was killing morale, the truckers were always late. The icka d’amri of Rava, and the nafka minas it created, made no sense to me. I was so tired.
And I was humiliated. After all those years, this is where I was? I spent ten years in post-high school study — if I had gone to medical school, I would have been a doctor. I did something more important, yet had nothing to show for it; I was struggling just to learn a page of Gemara. I dreaded the sinking feeling that came each time I strained for what used to be simple. It sucked the life out of me.
So I focused on work and more years passed. Thank G-d, we were blessed with success and built a business that employs 20 people and supports my family.
When the daf yomi cycle started again in January, I started again too. I wake up at 4 am, I’m on the road at 4:30. I learn at night, around 9 p.m., when things quiet down.
Berachos and Shabbos were easy enough. Eruvin is tough. There are days I don’t quite grasp what’s going on. That sinking feeling comes back. I feel sick.
But I’m not giving up this time.
I have begun to give that sinking feeling to G-d. I give my frustration to my Creator Who knows my strengths and limitations. It is my gift to Him, a unique gift no one else can give. I will continue, no matter what. It’s the right thing to do. Soon we’ll reach another masechta and it will be easier.
Maybe someday I’ll retire and learn the way I once did. But for now, I go on.
Yaakov Rosenblatt is a businessman in Dallas, Texas, and the author of two books.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 839)
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