Top Ten Things to Look For in a Chavrusa

Return to Blog

Top Ten Things To Look For in a Chavrusa

Not to say that your Chavrusas make or break your year, but your Chavrusas can make or break your year. The longer the Seder, the more significant the Chavrusa will be. And even the smaller slots can end up being a highlight of your year, if you're paired with the right person. Here's a few things to think about when looking for a new Chavrusa:

  • Personality Match

    You’re going to spend a lot of time talking to each other, so you have to have some basic compatibility. If you’re happy “basically” knowing the Shakla V’Tarya, while your Chavrusa wants to check every word he’s not positive about in the Jastrow, it’s probably not going to work out. If you like to scream, yell, and throw Shtenders around, you better find someone who will be happy to scream back at you; someone more mild-mannered will need to find a different Oyeiv BaShaar.

  • Hasmada

    Learning thrives on Hasmada, dedicating sustained time and focus to whatever’s in front of you. A Seder punctuated with bathroom, coffee, facebook, and fresh-air breaks will not be a very productive one. If you’re a Masmid, find someone who will be happy to sit with you for one, two, three, or more hours straight. If you haven’t developed the “zitzfleisch” yet, you need a Masmid even more to help keep you focused.

  • Commitment

    “I missed seder on Sunday because I had to visit my grandparents, Monday was because I missed my alarm after my nap, Tuesday I missed the bus coming back from my doctor’s appointment, I had a wedding on Wednesday, and then Thursday our closest family friend was in and invited me out to dinner, and I couldn’t say no. Next week will be better though!” There are always excuses. Find the Chavrusa who won’t use them.

  • Promptness

    An ideal Chavrusa respects both his and your time enough to get to the Beis by the beginning of Seder. Each minute is valuable, no matter which Seder, and his not being there will throw off your rhythm as you try to decide what to do until he finally shows up.

  • Willingness to Argue

    R’ Yochanan and Reish Lakish had a legendary Chavrusa. For every Svara R’ Yochanan offered, Reish Lakish was ready with multiple reasons as to why he was wrong. When Reish Lakish died, R’ Yochanan’s new Chavrusa offered Svaros to support R’ Yochanan’s ideas – and R’ Yochanan was distraught. “I don’t need you to tell me I’m right, I know I’m right myself! I need you to tell me why I’m wrong!” To really get a Sugya straight, both sides need to be ready to suggest their own reads or poke holes in their Chavrusa’s read.

  • Willingness to Concede

    The opposite problem is when a Chavrusa isn’t able to see past their Svara and admit defeat. Instead of searching for the Emes in the Sugya, it becomes a game of who’s right, who’s wrong – and he won’t ever admit to being wrong. That leads to hours of useless arguing and frustration – not worth your time.

  • Patience

    Everyone has better and worse days. Quick as you might generally be, you’ll have times where things will just take longer to process. A particular Gemara may not be sitting well with you and you’ll want to check it up in the Artscroll or run it by another pair to make sure you’re reading it correctly. A patient Chavrusa will take it all in stride, giving you the time you need to get it and move on.

  • Energy

    Especially for long Sedarim, an energetic, excited Chavrusa can help keep things moving. And even if you're the more mellow type, I can promise you: As someone who’s been on both sides of the table, no one likes a Chavrusa who keeps dozing off midsentence.

  • Smartness/Intelligence

    They say that most relationships have Reachers and Settlers. This is true by Chavrusas, as well, and can be mutually beneficial: the Reacher gets someone a bit smarter than they are, which gives them some extra help with difficult concepts or Sugyas. The Settler has the opportunity to get more clarity by being forced to verbalize his explanation of a Sugya, which often has benefits for memory. However, the disparity needs to be reasonable; things like intelligence and quickness should most of the time be relatively well-matched.

  • Long-Range Vision

    Thinking big-picture can have significant payoffs. For example, you can structure your Halacha seder in a couple of ways: one option is just to pick a topic, such as Mishna Berura Hilchos Shabbos, and learn it K’seder. A better option is to try to map out when it’s reasonable to complete the topic (potentially planning for Chazara, as well), and sketch out a schedule of how much to learn per day/week in order to complete the goal. In this example, let’s suggest a full Choref Zman for the entire third Chelek of Mishna Berura. An even better option would be to try to think even bigger. What if you scheduled for a year, rather than just a Zman? Or two years, instead of one? For our Mishna Berura example, maybe two years would allow you to do Hilchos Shabbos in the Mishna Berura as well as Pninei Halacha, or learning 3 Chalakim of Mishna Berura (1-2-3) rather than just the third. In general, you can accomplish bigger goals (longer Masechtas, bigger or more difficult topics, more times through a Sefer, extra Meforshim on a Tanach Limmud) by trying to plan for a longer stretch of time.

    At the same time, someone with big goals can take you along for a great ride. When one student was just starting high school, a friend approached him and suggested they try to finish Shas Mishnayos by the end of high school. Long story short, they did, with the original student accomplishing more than he ever had dreamed of.

Of course, no individual will have every one of these qualities; this list is meant to provide things to think about while looking for a new Chavrusa. Some points may not even resonate with you, in which case you should of course disregard them. Finally, the best way to attract Chavrusos who personify these traits is to work on expressing them yourself.

We're just getting this site started, and can really use your help. If you appreciated this article, please share it with some friends!

Return to Blog