Learning for my Bat Mitzvah

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
JOFA asked me to write an article about my learning for my Bat Mitzvah. This is the article.

Submitted: May 30, 2010

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Submitted: May 30, 2010

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People ask me why I decided to make a siyyum on Seder Nezikin for my Bat Mitzvah in June. It all started one Monday in March when my mother took my brothers, my sister, and me to the Israel Book Shop. I looked around, found that they did indeed have the Artscroll translated Mishnahs (Mishnayos Yad Avraham) and begged my mother to buy them for me. We’d already been considering getting me my own set for a while because I really wanted to learn Mishnah on my own, so this wasn’t an unreasonable request. “How much will you learn each day?” she asked, after looking at the price.

“An hour,” I promised.

“It’s going to come out of your reading time,” she warned. “You can’t stay up later.”

“I know,” I told her. So we bought them.

I decided to study Seder Nezikin which is the fourth of the six main divisions of the Mishnah. I chose Nezikin (lit. Damages), which deals mainly with laws, testimony, oaths, and witnesses, because I had wanted to learn Mo’ed but my mother thought I would be more challenged by Nezikin and besides I had previously learned some of Makkos (the massechet dealing mainly with trials and punishments for noncapital and unusual criminal cases.) These reasons made it a good idea to learn Nezikin. My ambitions of learning an hour each day soon turned into a Perek (or chapter) a day. Naturally, I set out to discover how long it would take me at this rate. After checking and rechecking my math, I learned that the answer was 74 days since there are seventy-four perakim in Nezikin.

And still I wasn’t satisfied. I learned all the time, more than my promised hour a day, and soon raced many Perakim ahead.

Later, I discovered that the finishing date would be near my Bat Mitzvah and, since I hate planning parties, decided to have a siyyum for my Bat Mitzvah celebration.

Around the same time, I decided to try to learn all of Mishnah, i.e. all six sedarim, which consist of 63 massechtot. This might seem unrealistic, but I think I’ll finish in about a year, even though some of the material is boring and other parts I can’t understand for a while because the Mishnah uses measurements and currency that I have no way to understand (for instance, a Perutah is equal to ½ a barleycorn. What is a barleycorn, anyway, and how small is this compared to other coins?).

 Sometimes I think that I’m going too fast, but I have the rest of my life to learn and I want to make this year count. Mostly before this I read Midrash or asked my father to tell me stories from the Gemara, and this is really the first learning I’ve done on my own and entirely on my own because I want to be myself.

When I read a Mishnah, I read it in Hebrew, then English, and then I read the commentary, because this gives me the reasons I so badly need to understand why. Why Jews aren’t required to recompense Gentiles for the loss of their property although Gentiles are required to compensate Jews. Why a Cohen’s daughter who is seduced or raped is burned rather than strangled. Why we try so hard to acquit murderers. If the commentary can’t answer my questions, then I try to understand by myself, by asking myself why I would rule this way, or if the reverence the nation shows its king is essential to its survival, or if being acquitted by the Sanhedrin would change a person’s view of the mitzvot and life in general. By placing myself in the mind of one of the people involved in the case, I feel I can understand it better.

The basic structure of the Mishnah (in ascending order) is: mishna-perek-massechet-Seder-Mishnah.

That I am the only one of my friends who learns for a hobby doesn’t bother me so much, although I have attempted on numerous occasions to involve them in my learning. When I ask, I get answers such as: “I wouldn’t be any help to you; I can’t learn” from my classmates which is perfectly ridiculous, since we learn Mishnah in school, or “No, thanks. I don’t learn Mishnah” from people who aren’t in my school. I think I learn a lot from my Mishnah learning, and not all of it is about Halachah. By attempting to understand the whys of the Mishnah, I think I learn more about the nature of human beings and the concept of “How do you know your blood is redder?” I also think I’ve learned about loyalty, good, understanding Hashem, and life in general. I think my learning has made me a better person and hope to start a Mishnah class because I also feel that would be helpful in my number-one Bat Mitzvah goal: to get to know myself.

As for my Bat Mitzvah siyyum in June, it’s basically going to be dinner, after which I’ll teach some of my favorite mishnas and the last mishna in  Seder Nezikin, and then recite the Hadran which is a form of kaddish generally said at a burial or siyyum. Its main idea is that “we will come back”.

Then I’ll continue with my larger project…


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