How do you learn?

Posted on August 1, 2005

Apparently, I learn by the sink-or-swim method.

I was talking with two other women in shul last Shabbat about the fact that I’d be layning (chanting) Torah for the first time this coming October. The prospect left me excited but very nervous. I’ve chanted Haftarah before, but you get the trope notes and vowels and everything with Haftara. With Torah, there are no vowels, no notes, and all the text is hand-scribed in fancy calligraphy. It seemed daunting at first.

One woman suggested that I start small. Pick a very short reading, read on a Monday or Thursday during morning minyan when there’s only a couple dozen friendly faces. Wait until I’m more comfortable before tackling a longer reading in front of some 300 people. We joked about this being the test-the-waters approach to learning. Dip your toe in the pool, then immerse a foot, and gradually get in.

I said that my history of taking on tasks has typically been to jump in with everything I’ve got. If I jump in the deep end, I will learn to swim! My life will depend on it! Of course, sometimes I stand at the edge, telling myself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” And sometimes I need that helpful hand to push me in.

The other woman in our conversation offered another alternative: she said she doesn’t even stand at the edge, thinking about it. She just runs full speed at the deep end, jumps in, and as her body sinks to the bottom, wonders, “What have I done?!”


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