Before pre-judging this article, please give the idea expressed in it a chance. There is no question that the exponential growth of Daf Yomi, and now the Daf HaYerushalmi too, has been a remarkable boon for Torah growth. Never before in the history of Torah learning have more members of Klal Yisrael joined in daily learning of Gemara. It is certainly remarkable and should be reinforced in whatever way we can.
It is a fact, however, that most roshei yeshiva do not encourage yeshivaleit to study it. Interesting. What is it that lies behind this sentiment? One can wonder, why exactly this is.
Perhaps the answer can be found in what actually constitutes our underlying motivations in learning. Most people who are successful in learning (and in most fields, actually) have a sense of curiosity—indeed, a sense of wonder.
In modern times, many of our Gemarahs are filled with illustrations and charts that have led us to an augmented Torah environment. But strangely, all of these new innovations have not really recreated the European Yeshiva student of the past. Where are the Rav Shimon Shkops, the Rav Chaim Soloveitchiks, and the Rav Boruch Bers of the past?
These Gedolim developed with no hi-tech Gemarahs and sefarim. They used the Vilna Shas and the classical Maharshas and Maharshals once found in the back of our Gemarahs. For some reason, the Maharsha is no longer printed separately in its section—rather it is generally included in a tapestry of other meforshim.
What seems to be missing is the careful cultivation of the sense of curiosity and wonder. Our learning is not dependent upon enhanced and enriched texts, it is contingent upon our sense of curiosity, wonder, and awe. This is, perhaps, the secret, the center of what was behind the development of Gedolim past. And perhaps regarding this point, we can gain some insight from the Hagadah itself.
When we learn Daf Yomi, our goal is to finish the daf—to cover more ground so we do not fall behind. The endeavor limits us in a sense. Unless we carefully feed and cultivate our sense of wonder, it can dull our sense of curiosity, our sense of wonder.
This observation was not meant to stunt our study of the Daf or our mastery of Shas, chalilah. Rather, it is an attempt to tweak. What would happen if we introduced two vital and important words to every daf or amud that we learn? The two words would be, “I wonder…”
Rather than being an environment that deadens our sense of curiosity and wonder, these two words can imbue us with a desire to explore and investigate. It can cause us to roll up our sleeves and investigate. It doesn’t have to be then and there, but it does have to be.
It is no wonder that the words in the berachah of Birchas HaTorah are, “la’asok b’divrei Torah” rather than “lilmod Torah.” La’asok means to delve and we cannot delve without a sense of curiosity, or wonder and awe. Kli Yakar explains that Moshe Rabbeinu only explored the sneh—the burning bush—because of his sense of curiosity and wonder.
Wonder is what brings Torah alive and is at the heart of what constitutes our motivation to achieve and grow.
We have just finished celebrating Purim. Chazal tell us that it was at Har Sinai that we accepted Torah sh’b’ksav. But it was on Purim when we accepted Torah sh’b’al peh.
Torah sh’b’al peh is so very beautiful, wondrous, and deep. All this should and does trigger a sense of awe and wonder.
And perhaps this is why the Mah Nishtanah is part of the mitzvah of Maggid. I would like to suggest that the Hagadah is not mere question and answer. It is more. It is the cultivation of a sense of wonder. If the Ma Nishtanah becomes rote or just memorization, then the sense of wonder is not evoked.
Our Sages further tell us that the more we discuss the mitzvah, the more praiseworthy we are—kol ha’marbeh l’sapeir…harei zeh meshubach. Why is this so? In regard to all other mitzvos, once the mitzvah has been fulfilled, that is it, it ends. Here, however, the mitzvah continues. Reb Shalom Noach Berzovsky, zt’l, the Slonimer Rebbe, explains that the mitzvah is a continuous one precisely because it is the means of imbuing the heart of each and every Jew with emunah throughout the year.
And the best way to imbibe this emunah within ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren is if we first cultivate it with a sense of wonder.
No matter who the person is, the mitzvah never ends: Afilu kulanu chachamim, kulanu nevonim…the greatest of sages are also obligated in this ever-continuous mitzvah because they too need the boost in emunah that is obtained from Pesach and from our natural sense of wonder.
There are infinite depths to emunah, thus the means of instilling this emunah is also infinite.
What is emunah? The Nesivos Shalom describes three separate areas:
a. Belief in Hashem as Creator of the world, in which the righteous gentiles of the world also believe.
b. Belief in Hashem’s hashgachah pratis—Divine providence—that Hashem takes the time and “effort” to involve Himself in the details of our lives here on earth.
c. The fact that we, Klal Yisrael, have been chosen for a unique and Divine role and mission.
All three aspects of emunah are part of the Pesach experience.
All the nissim we experienced point to Hashem as the Creator of the world.
The 10 makos show that there is hashgachah pratis.
Yetzias Mitzrayim itself and the subsequent revelation of the Torah to the Children of Israel indicate Israel’s unique role and mission.
We should utilize this special yom tov to increase our emunah in all of the three areas, and the best way to do it is through the rubric of wonder—which is the essence of the Mah Nishtanah. This is also the best way to learn through Shas as well.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.