Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bekius vs. Iyun

Bekius vs. Iyun

Bekius vs. Iyun has always been an issue that Yeshiva bochurim struggle with. On the one hand, it cannot be disputed that the greatest Gedolei Torah have been incredible bekiim. The argument therefore runs, that if you want to be a gadol b'torah, you have to be a baki. Further, even the greatest lomdim such as Rav Chaim Brisker, were also great bekiim. They certainly seemed to know everything. Even they apparently understood that in order to be a lamdan, one must have a great breadth of knowledge.

However, most Yeshiva bochurim quickly learn that in Yeshivos the stress is not on bekius. Quite the opposite in fact. Often times, the "better" shiurim are more biiyun, and they go the slowest. It's not uncommon for a high level shiur to cover 30 blatt or less over an entire year. Why is this the case?

There are a couple of classic reasons that are commonly given:

Reason #1: If a Yeshiva only learns bekius, what exactly are the Rebbeim there for? Most Beis Midrash level bochurim are able to learn the simple pshat of Gemara and Rashi themselves. A Yeshiva has to be dedicated to learning at a higher level or else it is nothing more than a Beis Midrash with a nice library of seforim.

Reason #2: How much time can one even spend on bekius? In order to do a daf of gemara it takes about 30 to 45 minutes if you are learning the blatt from scratch, assuming you have good comprehension skills. This means that in a three hour seder of bekius, learning only Gemara and Rashi one can end up covering 3 blatt bekius. If a person learned bekius for both first and second seder he could theoretically cover 7 blatt from scratch! Even more if he is doing chazarah on blatt he has already learned! Is it really sane to go through 7 blatt a day?* Of course not. It's way too much for any normal brain to really retain. So your other option is to go over a little less with chazarah. But, again, doing this kind of thing all day is not very enjoyable. Most people would prefer to set a side a little portion of their day for bekius and chazarah, and the rest for going biiyun. In yeshivishe terms, it's a more geshmak way of using your times. Therefore, yeshivos focus on what is more geshmak.

*This assumes there is no "Law of Diminishing Returns" when it comes to learning. In reality, if a person on average takes 45 minutes to learn one blatt, it will take him longer and longer with each successive blatt, as he becomes more and more tired of the process.

The Problem

Here, then, is where we come to the problem that many bochurim face. Both of these reasons are very b'dieved. Since Rebbeim need jobs... therefore we are learning b'iyun! Since it's too hard to learn bekius with chazarah all day... therefore we want to make it more geshmak!? Isn't torah learning supposed to be hard? Perhaps bekius and chazarah is exactly what is meant by the phrase "memis atzmo uleha". One is supposed to struggle in Torah! Why are we taking the easy way out. Is this some kind of eis laasos L'Hashem?? If so, maybe it's only for the masses. But surely one who truly aspires to gadlus should pursue a breadth of Torah knowledge! This is the issue that I will leave you with. Perhaps we will return to this issue in the future, iy"h. In the meantime, I would love to hear your comments.

Update 2/28/2008: This post was apparently somewhat misleading. Please see here for a clarification of my position on these issues.