A Healthy Learning Diet:
Hitting All the Food Groups (Part 2)

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Nach

It’s time to finally acquaint yourself with the other 19 out of 24 books in Tanach (see Rashi on Shemos 31:18). On a basic level, we should be aware of our own history, knowing who the main players were and what the timeline looks like. Additionally, of the thousands of Neviim who received messages from Hashem when Nevua was still around, the only ones which were written down were the ones which had eternally relevant ideas. Accessing them means learning through with Mefarshim: Rashi, Metzudas David/Metzudas Tzion, and Radak for basic Pshat, while someone like the Malbim for some breathtaking ideas.

Halacha

Learning Halacha is a basic necessity for living an Orthodox lifestyle, as well as appreciating the nuances of the Halachos you were brought up practicing. There are many topics to learn, and each one seems to have no end to the details that can be learned (In his Hakdama to Mishna Berura, the Chafetz Chaim recommended starting with Orach Chaim, topics needed to navigate daily life). There are two complementary approaches: One is to learn something which gives you a basic breakdown of everything, while the other is to choose one area of Halacha and focus on getting the details down. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chayei Adam, Halacha 24/7, and Shaarei Halacha are examples of the former; Mishna Berura and Pninei Halacha from R’ Eliezer Melamed (Hebrew, with some available in English) are examples of the latter.

Mussar

The goal of a Mussar Seder is to learn something which inspires and guides you to grow as a person and as an Eved Hashem. Some of the classic Sefarim you should get acquainted with at some point are: Mesillas Yesharim, Orchos Tzaddikim, and Shaarei Teshuva. Recently, Sefarim have been written that might feel more relevant and applicable to modern challenges. Some examples are Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (a simply written but very deep Sefer on getting to know yourself and how to work through your own challenges) and Olam HaMiddos (a very practical Sefer that goes Midda-by-Midda with actionable suggestions for growth). Chovas HaTalmidim, written in the mid-1900s by the Piaseczner Rebbe, is a tremendously inspiring Sefer written to demonstrate to students their own incredible potential. While written very positively, the Rebbe doesn’t shy away from some sharp insights that can really dig deep. Don’t forget to start with the Hakdama!

Hashkafa

Finally, developing your Hashkafa should be a top-tier goal for your time in Yeshiva. While a big part of Hashkafic growth comes from building a relationship with a Rebbi who has a similar worldview to what you’re aiming for, seeing the ideas inside is also important. Speak to your Rebbeim for recommendations; Pirkei Avos with Rashi/Rambam/Rabbeinu Yonah, the Kuzari, Ramban Al HaTorah, and parts of Michtav MeiEliyahu and Alei Shur are some examples. My personal Yesodos come from Rav Samson Refael Hirsch’s 19 Letters and Rav Soloveitchik’s Halachik Man. Another incredible resource is the writings of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, such as By His Light and the two volumes of Leaves of Faith. All three are beautifully eloquent and tremendously inspiring essays developing foundational ideas in Jewish thought.

Two areas I left out are Machshava and Chassidus. Machshava is often explained as Jewish philosophy. Another way to put it is that Machshava is our thoughts on God, as opposed to Hashkafa which is God’s thoughts on us. Machshava can be an important Limmud for some students; the Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim and the Ramchal (author of Mesillas Yesharim)’s Derech Hashem are a couple of examples. Chassidus is hard to quantify as one distinct area of learning, as it spans the spectrum of the Limmudim discussed above. One common denominator is that Sifrei Chassidus are usually very personally oriented, and appeal to a mystical worldview to connect concepts with daily life.

Sof Davar, HaKol Nishma...

These are the areas available: Gemara, Bekius, Chumash, Nach, Halacha, Mussar and Hashkafa. Set up your schedule to get at least a taste of each category. Some Limmudim demand more time than others – you won’t have a 3-hour Mussar Seder, and you likely won’t have a once-a-week Gemara Chavrusa, either. But spread out your time enough so that you’re covering each of these areas at some point over a normal Yeshiva/Seminary week. After getting acquainted with everything on the ‘buffet,’ you’ll have gotten a taste for the sweetness of Torah, and will be ready to focus in on the areas that appeal to Mah Shelibo Chafetz!

This post covers Nach, Halacha, Mussar, and Hashkafa. Part 1 covers Gemara, Bekius and Chumash.

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