My children were fascinated at the attention that the Siyum HaShas garnered. They were inspired as well, and my seventh-grader (we’ll call him Avi) decided he wants to “do the daf.” He doesn’t have great grades and I’m worried that the extra pressure is going to cause his grades to dip even lower. My husband is worried about something else entirely. He feels that doing the daf should be a commitment, and that our son will stop after a few months, which would be teaching him the wrong lesson. On the other hand, it’s learning Torah. Isn’t this a good thing? What should we tell him? Please guide us so we don’t make a mistake.
Learning daf yomi is not a good thing; it’s a great thing. I’m not taking away from your question, chas v’shalom, but that’s the beautiful thing about the daf; it’s a unifier. There are chassidim, modern Orthodox, yeshivish, Israeli, and so many other types of Yidden joining this amazing initiative. The fact that your son was inspired is fantastic. Nevertheless, you and your husband both have understandable concerns, so let’s address them individually.
You’re worried that doing the daf will cause your son’s grades to get worse, and you might be right. The real question is, what is the goal of Hebrew studies in seventh grade? If it’s to learn Torah, that’s exactly what the daf is all about. If it’s to gain skills, then learning the daf won’t help that much.
It seems that the prudent decision regarding your fears would be to set up some guidelines. These should be based on what you expect from him based on previous performance. If he’s a straight “B” student, he has to continue to get a “B” average. It’s unfair to expect him to maintain a higher average since he’s doing something that’s ultimately beneficial. If a child wants a reward of some sort, it makes sense to push for higher grades. In this case, I think it’s a bad idea.
Your husband’s concern is also valid. Children learn in many ways, and if they don’t follow through on their commitments, it can have negative ramifications. That being said, there are many variables here that we’re missing. First of all, even if he wants to stop learning after the first masechta, that means he’s making a siyum on Maseches Berachos. Not too shabby!
Second of all, if it is getting too difficult, he can simply slow down. He can start doing an amud a day instead of a daf. Alternatively, he can listen to a shiur about the daf instead of actually doing it inside. In other words, he doesn’t need to quit. Lastly, he doesn’t need to make this into a commitment. He can start doing the daf for two weeks and see how he is feeling afterward. This isn’t necessarily a seven-year commitment.
The one thing you neglected to mention in your email is how proud you must be of him. He’s a seventh-grade boy who was inspired. One of the biggest issues I’m finding with this generation is lack of a drive. Perhaps I’m a “boomer,” but I love when kids have that inner drive to succeed. Your son wants to act in a positive way, and you should be encouraging this behavior.
Say something along these lines to your son: “Avi. We’re so proud of you that you want to join with thousands of other Yidden to learn daf yomi. It’s a sign of maturity that you want to be involved, and we are behind you 100%. There are a few things that we need to tell you before you begin. Although we’re super-impressed that you want to do the daf, we know that it requires time and focus. You’re still in yeshiva, and we can’t let your grades suffer for any reason. Therefore, as long as your grades are consistent, we’ll continue to encourage you to keep up with the daf. If, however, your grades start to slip, we’re going to ask you to put the daf on hold until you can get back on track.
“We also want you to realize that even if you only learn one daf, we’ll be super-proud of you. You’re not competing against anybody, because we’re all on the same team. If you feel that you want to stop at any time, there’s no shame in it. You can always start up again. No matter how much you do, we are so happy that you’re pushing yourself, and we’re very confident that you’ll complete Shas many times in your life.”
I would like to tell you one more thing. You seem awfully worried about making mistakes with your children. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you learn from them. Children are a lot more resilient than we think. I’ve seen parents make really big mistakes, but if they are more careful in the future, there won’t necessarily be repercussions. If letting your child learn the daf is a mistake, it’s a great mistake to make.
P.S. Next week, I’ll be answering a similar question, this time regarding an eighth-grade girl.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com.