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Never Despair in Learning | Rabbi Dovid Abenson

One need never despair and think “I cannot learn”. In this article, I shall illustrate with some true stories from my own practice. My hope is that this will inspire all those who need it to seek help. All the names have been changed.

A concerned aunt reached out to me regarding her 18-year-old nephew Pinchas. He had been kicked out of Yeshiva and was struggling with his learning, reading, and social skills. He was very withdrawn. No one was able to get through to him. Fortunately, he agreed to work with me and we were able to work together to improve his skills. Not only did his learning improve but also his self-confidence. According to the aunt he became “an extrovert who loved being around people”. We all had much Nachas when he recently became engaged.

Eleven-year-old Yaakov was having difficulties with kriah. His parents were trying to work on it with him at home but it was proving to be a frustrating and negative experience for all. I worked with him for several sessions using the Zobin Method. After a few sessions, his parents were pleasantly surprised by how clearly and quickly he read compared with before. “What happened?” they asked him. Yaakov laughed “I followed Rabbi Abenson’s instructions. Whenever I start to trip up on the words I slow down and read more carefully”. As more and more words become familiar, Yaakov has an easier time with his Chumash and Gemarah too.

When 18-year-old Ari first started yeshiva, his Gemora, Chumash, Rashi, and Hebrew reading was poor. He struggled with chavrusas and found it a challenge to understand the shiur, even though he was putting in all his effort. His Gemora skills were not strong enough for him to learn by himself. Artscroll would help in the short term, but it could not help Ari reach his true goal of learning independently. Nor could Ari be assisted by a private rebbe. The problem was not the inability to understand a piece of Gemora, rather it was the lack of the basic vocabulary and techniques in learning. These, the rebbes were not trained to teach.

As Ari himself wrote: “After a while, I was introduced to Rabbi Abenson who guaranteed that he would guide me to reach my full learning potential using his widely acclaimed individual program. He would accurately diagnose the causes of the barrier and effectively remove them. It sounded too good to be true but I decided to try it out. We started right from the beginning and slowly made our way through the vital skills needed to learn posukim, Mishnayos, and finally Gemora. Instantly I could see my level of learning increase and my vocabulary broaden. For one hour a day, five times a week, I learned with Rabbi Abenson until after six weeks we had achieved what nine years of primary school and six years of secondary school had failed to accomplish.

Thanks to Rabbi Abenson I now enjoy learning with my chavrusas, and shiurim became much easier to comprehend. My yeshiva life has been turned around and will hopefully continue to grow.”

Thankfully these youngsters were able to seek help in time to ensure a lifetime of successful learning, b’ezras Hashem. Perhaps you will feel you could have benefited from this kind of intervention in your youth, but it is too late now. As the following stories will illustrate, however, it is never too late to start.

Yoni is 54. He was a late starter, not having started learning Gemara in his mid-forties. Like many, he struggled with the basics of learning Gemara. As he pointed out to me, there is little help for those wishing to develop the techniques of Gemara learning at that late stage. Yoni was picking up vocabulary, phrases, and technique as he stumbled along — in a piecemeal fashion — but had no method for putting it all together. So much mental involvement was required for the basic translation of words and phrases, it was virtually impossible to step back and see the patterns and symmetry which are the key to a true understanding of the text.

Despite learning three to four hours every day for the past six years, Yoni struggled to learn even one line well without the aid of a rebbe or an Artscroll. He came to see me. We had one diagnostic session followed by two training sessions in the Zobin method for learning Gemara. This method teaches the student how to use his own analytical skills to gather as much information as possible from the text at hand and use the “clues” available for interpreting the text. After the two training sessions, I felt he “got it” and would only need practice from then on.

In Yoni’s own words: “during the recent winter break, I was able to learn alone for four hours straight in the morning followed by a similar afternoon seder, with only occasional checking with my chavrusa that I was on track. Additionally, last week I learned half an omud of Gemora, alone, with no external input at all, in under an hour. This is phenomenal progress for me.”

Baruch was 68. Despite having had a traditional American yeshiva education, he had always had problems with kriah. This impacted davening and made it difficult to learn without a chavrusa or rebbe. His English reading skills on the other hand were exceptional, so he could never understand why kriah was such a struggle. He discovered my program through an article in Mishpacha magazine that detailed my work and decided to give it a try.

After just a few sessions of the reading program, I noted a real improvement in my ability to read Hebrew! [Rabbi Abenson] also showed me an approach to Gemara learning which, while requiring real work, provides a real path to competence in Gemara learning. I certainly wish I had had this opportunity when I started my schooling; but better late than never.”

Perhaps my oldest client was a rebbe close to 80 years old who was present during a session where I worked with his grandson. During the second session, he humbly asked me, in front of his grandson, to be upgraded in the Gemara program. He has been teaching for many years in Australia and elsewhere and he learned in Gateshead Yeshiva in 1934. He told me he always felt he was missing skills in his learning especially in Gemara, and when he saw me working with his grandson he felt this is also what he was missing when he was younger.

Chazal showed us that the only real source of happiness and fulfillment is learning Hashem’s Torah. For so many, however, learning has needlessly become a source of pain and despair. I urge all my readers — no matter how old you are and what age you started to learn Torah, whether you are a BT or a burnt-out FFB who did not succeed in yeshiva or school — It is never too late to upgrade your skills. It is the birthright of every Yid to be taught how to learn and to love the Torah and Hashem בשמחה ובטוב לבב with happiness and a glad heart.

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Rabbi Abenson is the founder and director of ShaarHatalmud, a unique yeshivah-based online program, which incorporates learning all Kodesh subjects, from Kriah up to learning Gemara, Rishonim, and Shulchan Aruch. He also conducts evaluations, remediation, and training, and consults with school principals to improve students’ underdeveloped skills.

Rabbi Dovid Abenson can be contacted at: Tel. 15147393629, Cell/Whatsapp 15149935300, Email: ravabenson@shaarhatalmud.com

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