Thursday, August 9, 2012

Nach Yomi

There is a concept of Daf Yomi: you learn a page of gemara a day, every day, through every tractate and area. People all over the world learn the same page on the same day. Like this, one finishes the entire gemara over the course of 7 and a half years. The benefit: one is familiar with the entire gemara, not just "popular" or easy areas.

But there is another benefit/drawback: in order for this to work, one needs to commit a certain amount of time every day to learning. No holidays, no sick days, no celebrations, day in and day out, one has to find time to set aside to learn. From what I heard, catching up is hard, if not virtually impossible. This requires a huge commitment and a huge amount of discipline.

I was at an impasse with 8 yo about drums. He likes drumming. He picked up a few rhythms, made up his own, likes banging around, likes combining sounds. He hates practice. He hates sitting the right way, holding the drumsticks the right way, playing the same rhythm twenty times, counting out loud. He wants to get it, and get it fast. He gets frustrated. We spoke about it, we made plans, promises, trades. I wavered: maybe he is not ready, but maybe he is ready and he just needs to put in some effort and then he will come to enjoy all of it.

Then I thought about it: he does not see people work hard at something. He does not see grown-ups taking on commitments, failing, trying again, getting frustrated. I thought about what would be a grown-up equivalent of practice which would pay off, but would require a commitment.

I decided to do Nach Yomi. Previously, I read Yehoshua and Shoftim(Judges), studied Shmuel I and II and a bit of Melachim I, but the rest is quite murky. Oh, sure, I come to shul and hear haftorah (the readings from the Prophets and Writings, corresponding to the weekly portion) and all the megilot, but what about the rest? What about the context? What about the rest of Iyov, not just that he lost everything, spoke to some friends, and then gained everything back?

In one of the recent articles, a point was made that if all the copies of the book of Havakuk would disappear from all the yeshivot, nobody would notice. My husband countered that Havakuk is read as a haftorah somewhere... not sure if it's true, but the point still stands: how well do I know the rest of the Nach to know what am I missing?

So I decided to embark on a personal Nach Yomi. The rules are simple: one perek (chapter) of Nach per day, starting with Yehoshua. I am reading it in English, Artscroll edition, with translated commentaries. It takes me anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. The only rule is that I have to do it EVERY DAY. And this part is the hardest, there are so many more other things to do. It is Friday night and I spent the whole day cooking and teaching parsha to kids. It is a weeknight, my husband is on call, the kids are finally in bed and I much rather read some light magazine.

But I decided to commit to this. I know that I will benefit in much larger way that I can even imagine now. I know that my kids are asking when will I finish Yehoshua and what will I do for a siyum (completion party). I know that as we are reading about Moshe commanding Yehoshua how to conquer the land, I get to explore how it actually took place.

Most importantly, I am getting to experience a bit of the same frustration that my son is dealing with. Most importantly, I get to show him how hard work pays off.


  1. I have embarked on similar projects in the past. Most have failed, but I found one that succeeded for nearly two years, and could likely succeed in the future.

    I initially wanted to do a Rambam Yomi program with the Mishneh Torah. First I tried jumping on the bandwagon and following along with the "official" schedule. That failed. Then I tried being super ambitious and went for Chabad's three-chapter-a-day program. That also failed. My problem was exactly as you described: some days I just wasn't in the mood, and I didn't like rushing through it "just to be yotzei," and once I missed time, it was impossible to catch up.

    Then, one day, I devised a system. I told myself that every day, immediately following Shacharis AND Maariv, I would open up my Mishneh Torah and do one of the following things: (1) read a few halachos, (2) read half of a perek, or (3) read a full perek. The idea was that on the more ambitious days, I could do a full perek, and on the days when I wasn't in the mood, I could at least make myself do a few halachos (with "few" being left intentionally undefined). As for the half-perek: sometimes the perek was extremely long and half seemed like a more realistic length, and other times, I'd start by telling myself I'd do half, and then I'd realize by the time I got there that I might as well finish the perek.

    For me, the key was the psychological flexibility. Whenever I set it up so that the program became a taskmaster, I lost motivation and/or rebelled. This worked for two years, and then mysteriously stopped. I don't know why I haven't started it up again. Perhaps I'll do it tonight!

    One more tidbit. Rabbi Moskowitz once told me that when he was much younger, he spent some time in the vicinity of Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky. Rav Kaminetsky had a little pocket Nach which he kept in his talis bag, and he had a Nach Yomi program going as well. However, Rabbi Moskowitz also saw that he didn't keep a Nach in his Shabbos talis bag. What insight did Rabbi Moskowitz derive from this observation? - That Rav Kaminetsky saw the value in doing Nach yomi, but (in Rabbi Moskowitz's words) he wasn't neurotic about it.

  2. The OU has a Nach Yomi schedule. I think they just started a cycle some months back. The whole thing takes close to three years.