POWER Reading and Understanding
One of the most difficult tasks we need to face in our world of decreasing reading skills is the objective analysis of the written word. This requires a proficient command of language coupled with the ability to divorce emotion from interpretation. A common ailment of society is its tendancy to hide imprecise thinking behind specious cliches. Phrases like "You know what I mean!", or just "You know?" substitute for the effort, or ability, to express thoughts intelligibily.
Much of the popular writings of 30 years ago is fast becoming unaccesible to the ordinary reader simply because so many words are going out of commission. With those words go the means for lucidly expressing many concepts.
Lacking the tools for objective analysis, it is no wonder that the ordinary person is often not even aware of his inability to rationalize within consistant parameters.
Even in the legal world, where precision of syntax should reign supreme, true meaning is often shrouded behind smokescreens of verbose circumlocutions. Worse than the waste of effort in piercing verbal fog is the opportunity it gives for misplaced sentiment to smother judicious reasoning. Succint, unambiguous expression of thought is the only sure basis for pure logic.
In contrast, the words of Chazal, within the parameters of their idiomatic usage, though often deceptively simplistic, are absolute definitions of clarity. A common practice is to introduce an interpretation of some text with the phrase, "What he wants to say is......". No! We do not have to be told what he wants to say! What he says is exactly what he wants to say. The correct introduction is, "What I understand is........"
A sage saying, attributed to the Brisker Rov is "Erste darf man verstehen voss stehte, noch dem - var voss stehte!" - First we must understand what is written. Only then can we try to understand why it is written!
To this level of what is written this sefer is directed. People need guidance in accurataly interpreting the literal meaning of the words of Chazal. By definition, this work must also be an introduction to the basics of logic, since one is a result of the other.
Perhaps nowadays, this book is even more desperately needed because our current society stresses the role of emotions in daily life, often to supercede the dictates of logic. Many people just do not know how to think logically. To some, logical thought carries the stigma of cold, unfeeling, inhuman robotics; unbecoming to a warmhearted, sympathetic Jew. But the truth is summed-up by the very title of the classic Duties of the Heart. Emotions do play a vital role in the life of a Jew - but only according to the logical dictates of the mind!
This work should not be read in one session but perhaps at a rate of one point per day. Then, the rest of the day can be used to apply the concepts of each respective point. The subject lends itself particularly to group discussion.
As you work through the book, you will find your attitude to words changing. You will become more aware of the power of words and you will become more sensitive to their consequences. Even your daily conversation will become more thoughtful, richer, mature and precise as you monitor your thoughts, clothing them in their most suitable form of expression before you transmit them.
Relax and have faith in your own mind. Don't be afraid to argue.
Our Torah has withstood the most intense analysis by the greatest minds that have ever existed! Regarding the actual practice of mitzvos, we must give way to superior knowledge and constantly seek guidance and instruction. But the logic of Gemora is human logic.
Either you will be right or you will be wrong. If you are right, all well and good. If you are wrong, you can learn from your mistake and stand a better chance of being correct next time. Either way, you gain!
It is pertinent to repeat here an important point which was also mentioned in "Breakthrough to the First Levels"As with all "mechanical" help to learning Gemora, whether they are books, tapes or computer programs, this book cannot replace the rebbi-talmid relationship which is the basis of the Oral Law.
Accessories can often provide valuable supplements, but the role of the rebbi goes beyond the simple transfer of information.
This is even more relevant when learning how to interpret the statements of our great Sages and when developing the ability to analyze their words to extract their underlying principles.
Download the Power Reading and Understanding document.