Sometimes you just have days where too many things are going on and you can’t concentrate. In those moments, learning something complicated just seems impossible. Trying to pull everything together on the verge of a move across the ocean has made it difficult to do what I should be doing today – reviewing basar bichalav and taarovos. Luckily, the Gemara has some insight in how one can learn even under those trying circumstances.
The Gemara in Taanis 7a records that R. Yirmiah once asked R. Zeira to teach him some Torah. He responded that he wasn’t up to it. In response, R. Yirmiah told him to teach him some Aggadata. In other words, it is understandable to be exhausted, but not all of Torah is equally complex. Just because one is not up to learning Yevamos doesn’t mean they can’t go through the Parsha. On the one hand, that means that there is no excuse to not learn at all. I know many Talmidei Chachamim who have relegated the lighter but crucial things they learn to when they are exhausted late at night. This way, they reserve their focus for the parts of Torah that require the most energy, but set aside time for other things as well. On the other hand, as one of Rebbeim in high school pointed out, one can be taken to task for learning something light when he or she could have been learning something more taxing. His proof was the Gemara in Megillah 3a which says that one should be mevatel Torah to hear the Megillah. Even if Krias HaMegillah is considered more of a public ritual reading than public study, there is surely a kiyum Talmud Torah for learning Tanach. [Though as Rabbi Menachem Leibtag once quipped, in the age of Torah UMadda, it would seem the only thing that is bittul Torah is learning Tanach.] As Rashi points out in the beginning of Bechukosai, guarding Hashem’s statutes requires ameilus baTorah – toiling, and it is the type of study that requires effort that is most rarefied.
Recognizing the different amounts of effort required for various parts of Torah thus implies a dual obligation – to learn even when we may be drained, but making sure to have at least some time where we are not just learning, but we are sweating and toiling. On that note, back to Yoreh Deah.