Learning as a Mother

I was reluctant to post on the topic of learning because the obligation is so different for women. I’m pretty sure that that’s when Mark posted the topic “Practical Ideas to Increase Learning,” he was looking for men’s advice about how to arrange daily sedarim in their busy lives. I have no advice on the matter, so men, feel free to ignore this post. I’m gearing this toward women.

The teshuva process is as much intellectual as emotional. Most of us spend a few intense years attempting to make up for a religious education that FFB’s receive in twelve. And then, just like with tefilla, kids enter the picture and learning is by necessity pushed to the back burner. Some women might miss it immediately while others are too busy with new responsibilities to think of other things. Sooner or later, though, we all begin to miss learning. And while many women I know opt for babysitters and periodic shiurim, on a day-to-day basis, I live on Torah tapes.

Let’s face it: housework is boring. I, for one, cannot face a sink full of dirty dishes without some intellectual stimulation. I used to be a radio news addict, but one day, I listened to my yetzer tov and put on a shiur called “The Antidote to Jealousy” by Rabbi Yigal Avisoff. That shiur changed my life.

Rabbi Avisoff said that the human mind is constantly working. Even while asleep, our minds are active, conjuring dreams. In the waking state, there’s not a moment in which we’re not thinking about something. But if our thoughts are not directed, if we just let our minds wander, inevitably, we start thinking about our problems, the perceived lacks in our lives, and this leads to thoughts of “Why can’t things be different for me? Why can’t I have what my neighbor has?”

The solution, of course, is to direct your thoughts. You can do this by distracting yourself with some form of entertainment, but the effect won’t last. In fact, chances are, if you tune into something the mass media has to offer, it will only increase your sense of lack because most of it is based on idealized conditions which don’t exist in real life. So if you want to do something constructive, something that could change you for the better and not just distract you temporarily, learn Torah.

After hearing that tape, I aimed to listen to a Torah shiur every day. I sometimes fall short of that goal, and because I listen while doing housework, I don’t hold myself to the same standard of concentration that I would give to a live shiur. But even if the kids are making noise and I miss a few points, it’s worth it, for them as much me. If nothing else, they learn that our home is a Torah home.

Since setting that goal, I have heard many inspirational shiurim which have propelled my growth as much as Rabbi Abisoff’s. As the Talmud tells us, “Great is the Torah because it leads to action.”

It’s for women, too. The tapes are available. All you need is a cassette player.

13 comments on “Learning as a Mother

  1. I wonder if we could use the net to hook up women who’d like to learn or practice language skills with chavrusot who can help eg on the phone. Is there anyone here who is looking for that kind of thing?

  2. To Sarah & MRN:

    I’m not really ashamed, so you have nothing to apologize for. I guess it was just a poor choice of words on my part.

  3. I apologize, Kressel: I didn’t mean to make you feel shame either. Please forgive me. Similar to Sarah, I learned modern Hebrew BF (before kids).

  4. Kressel:

    Chas V’Shalom, never meant to put anyone to shame. Every person is different and everybody’s day is different. I know I have strong needs for various kinds of learning. I have also been blessed with a high energy level, most of the time. Be proud of who you are and your accomplishments and most of all, let’s all keep growing.

  5. Sarah, you put me to shame. There’s only so much I can do in a day. I’m sticking with my Torah tapes.

  6. Kressel:

    I was lucky to have taken ulpan when I first got to Eretz Israel, though I am not at all fluent, can understand most things. Speaking it back a little harder since back in America and out of practice somewhat, though the large Israeli population in Kew Gardens Hills puts me to the test. We can always brush up on those language skills though. My husband speaks a fluent Hebrew still from his ulpan years ago. If I do ever make it up to Monsey, I plan to enroll in a Yiddish course. My son taught himself Chinese. Never too late.

  7. MRN,

    Unfortunately, that’s one thing many BTs can’t do with our kids. My fourth-grader already outstrips me in Hebrew vocabulary, and it’s been that way for a while. But baruch Hashem, I can still shep nachas.

  8. In case anyone is interested, the player that I have had much success with is the IRiver IFP-799 (1 gig) which holds about 34 hours of shiurim and costs $147 at Amazon. The IRiver IFP-895T (512 mg) holds 17 hours and costs $95.

    These mp3 players are extremely small and easy to carry in your pocket and you can always be walking around with hours and hours of shiurim. Waiting in lines and in traffic will never be the same.

    Here are some sites with a lot of free mp3s which you can listen to at your computer or on an mp3 player:


  9. Mark turned me on to a device that has revolutionized my wife’s learning, an mp3 player with a built in recorder. There are plenty of free quality mp3 shiurim available on the ‘net. We also record the shiurim we host or attend. I load up my wife’s player and she’s fitting in 2-3 hrs of learning a day. Works for men too!

  10. I have heard many mothers enjoy relearning Torah with their children when they are in the younger grades. It’s great to get back to basics and learn a little ‘Torah mit Rashi’ each week. I can’t wait until my kids start learning nach so I can learn the part of tanach I neglecting learning as a BT.

  11. Thank you Kressel for reminding me once again how important it is for women to keep learning throughout all the various cycles of life.

    Just two days ago I told my husband I felt I needed to attend a formal regular shiur, it had been too long. When I think back to all the various ways I’ve managed to learn over the years, it’s interesting.

    There were years when I was a new mother where a friend came over to learn and I would arrange for my grandparents to come and visit with the kids during that time. Some years I had a standing Rosh Chodesh celebration and learning with a friend and brought the kids along supplemented by in-between telephone chavrusing. Sometimes I did have a formal weekly shiur out of the house. Sometimes I listen to Torah tapes, with that I had to find my favorite speakers. On Shabbos I learn with my husband. During my last pregnancy my son learned with me regularly. My most memorable were the years when I worked in Manhattan, would come home, get everybody fed, bathed and off to bed and then around 10:00 or 10:30 PM go across the street to my neighbor (also a busy mother) where we would learn “Oz V’Hadar L’vusha” by Rabbi Falk for at least two hours. Though it was late and we were tired, it was invigorating and we looked forward to it until she moved to Israel. That was a life-changing experience.

    Also, what you said about “Great is the Torah because it leads to action” directly relates to any form of learning and shiurim. Whenever I am inspired by something learned, I must take some kind of immediate action, however small in order to internalize the message and the growth.

    I was recently by a friend for Shabbos, a busy working mother of a large family, and after candle-lighting we went up the street to a neighbor where we all learned about tefillah in a very energized and inspiring way.

    We have to make ourselves a priority in that regard and ask for help from our husbands, children, extended family to make sure we are spiritually nourished and able to pass on that important message in a heartfelt manner to our children. Don’t forget how much we learn from the children, their friends, Rebbes/Moros as well.

    Last but not least, I consider this Website “learning” as I find I am thinking about things I haven’t thought about for a very long time and it has inspired me to do more and grow further.

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