Sunday, November 1, 2009

You Make the Shiur!

[Haveil Havalim is here!]

One of the real attractions of my position with our new Beit Midrash in Toronto is the chance to work with our avrechim (fellows), helping them evolve as darshanim (orators) and maggidei shiur (teachers).

All of our avrechim are talented and learned, and all of them bring teaching experience to the table, so we are not talking about basic homiletics or lessons in how to structure a shiur. Finding ways to help them raise their game, so to speak, is a real challenge.

One innovation of which I am particularly proud is, “You Make the Shiur!” In this weekly program, I present the group with a מראה מקום, a text, and then they take some time during the week to develop a derashah or shiur involving that מראה מקום. Then we get together at the end of the week and review what each of us has done, and we make suggestions for improving each approach, or we point out ways that it could be challenged.

For example: This past week we looked at a gemara (Shabbat 89b) in which Avraham and Yaakov refuse to defend the Jews to Gd, but Yitzchak does so, first declaring that we are Gd’s own children, then minimizing the nation’s sins through a calculation of how much time we spend not-sinning, and finally arguing for mercy in the merit of his personal עקידה sacrifice.

Here’s what we did with it:

• One of us turned that source into a derashah on defending each other before Gd, using a comment by the Netziv in his introduction to Bereishit.

• Another suggested a derashah about the gap between our expectations from our parents and the way our parents act toward us.

• Another approach was to discuss the way that even chesed (generosity) has its limits, but that we may still be able to claim HaShem’s promises to us as a matter of justice.

• Another approach was to take an in-depth look at Yitzchak’s trait of Gevurah (strength), and its inner meaning, in a shiur.

• Yet another shiur avenue was to discuss Yitzchak’s association with Din (judgment), with a comment by the Maharsha and another by Rebbe Nachman miBreslov to explain how Din could be used for our redemption.

• And still another shiur approach was to fit Avraham and Yaakov’s refusal to defend us into a pattern of neviim who saw a limit to Divine forgiveness (Moshe, Yirmiyah, Eliyahu, Hosheia, Yonah, Chavakuk), because of the demands of Divine Justice. R’ Elazar b’Rabbi Shimon’s emergence from the cave fits as well. Yitzchak, though, knew what it meant to give one’s life for Divine Justice, and so he argued on our behalf.

I think you can see why I enjoy this method; it allows for a richness of individual creativity within a collaborative effort, and the result is rich and complex. It is also one of the many elements that make our Toronto Beit Midrash a unique development experience for our avrechim.

You can find the list of “You make the shiur!” sources we’ve used by clicking here; please visit, and make your own comments there.


  1. That is such an amazing idea- kudos that it works out! And it really uses tons of creativity and develops some really great Torah thoughts and ideas.

  2. interesting-my theory is we look in the torah and see our own reflection (well it's a bit more complex and includes a symbiotic relationship between ourselves and the torah)
    Joel Rich

  3. nmf-

    אסתכל באורייתא וברא עלמא
    נפש אחת = עולם מלא