On January 1st Trent posted a great article entitled "What Will You Learn This Year?" and it has inspired me to make a decision that I've been going back and forth on for a while.
The basic idea behind his post was that he was challenged to choose something to learn well by spending an hour a day at it for a year. Trent's decision to master solving the Rubik's Cube in under 3 minutes struck me as a little frivolous and was challenged by a number of commenters, although I understand that he chose it as a "parlour trick" that was portable, could be easily demonstrated and documented via YouTube updates.
I used to be able to solve the Cube in 3 minutes when it was first popular. I had a book on how to do it, which was very useful for the lower layers. Getting one side all one colour is not that complex, but getting the next 2 layers done without permanently undoing what you've already completed is the challenge. I eventually came up with a sort of "cheat sheet" on binder paper with little diagrams to help me remember some of the key moves and I memorized others. It was fun, but not particularly useful and I certainly don't remember how to solve it now. I could probably pick it up again in a week or two but that's not my learning goal for 2009!
I first started doing a particular daily religous learning, known as Chitas, a little over a year ago. CHiTaS is an acronym for Chumash [Bible, specifically Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible], Tehillim [the Book of Psalms] and Tanya [a kabbalistic book in several volumes written by the Alter Rebbe]. It takes me about half an hour (sometimes longer) to read the daily Torah portion with Rashi's commentary, the day's portion of Psalms and the day's portion of Tanya. I try to do it first thing in the morning (before I get Dear Child up for school) because if I don't do it then it really tends not to get done. I did fairly well with it last year, although there were times I fell behind and had to play catch up.
I did have a concern that I should be learning in the evening as well and considered moving the Chumash part of it to nighttime because it can be very variable in length, especially the amount of commentary. I also checked out another program called Nach Yomi which takes you through the other two parts of the Bible (Navi [Prophets] and Ketuvim [Writings]) by reading a chapter per day for two years. The OU started doing this at the beginning of November 2007 and all the shiurim [lectures] are available online with new ones added daily.
I thought it would be appropriate to start it at the beginning of November 2008 (so that it would be very easy to listen to the appropriate class by just clicking on the current date, albeit a year out) and did try for a while but was falling behind and getting discouraged.
I've also been taking a weekly university level class in Biblical Hebrew. I like the class but I don't have good study habits and am always flying by the seat of my pants. I find it particularly challenging because I went to school at a time when grammar was considered to be a non-essential subject and this course is heavily grammatical. I don't always understand what the instructor means when she talks about the difference between certain types of clauses (for example) and I feel stupid asking in front of the others (the class includes college instructors).
However, the reason for taking Biblical Hebrew was twofold. It was to help me with my translation of Chumash and to help me decide whether I want to pursue an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies. As tough as it is, I'm feeling more and more drawn to pursuing the degree.
Maybe I'm crazy. I work more than half time. I look after my granddaughters more than half time. I blog. I have other commitments and may be adding some additional work that I could do at home (in my "spare time" ha, ha) for more money.
But if I don't do this now, when will I do it? When will there be a better time? When I'm also managing my land from 4 hours away? When I'm also making wine or setting up a website to sell lavender products? My Dear Child has just started her way through the educational system and is learning Hebrew and studying Torah. By actively learning myself I provide her with the best possible role model.
I've put off making this decision but Trent's post made me really sit down and think about the whole thing. Not just from a time or tiredness point of view but with an eye to what I want in the long term. Who do I want to be? What value do I really put on learning? What middot [character traits] to I want to develop within myself? Where am I strong? And where am I lacking?
Ultimately I've decided to set a learning goal for 2009 of studying religious subjects for at least one hour per day. I don't expect it to be easy. I believe the hardest part of it will be developing the self-discipline necessary to actually do it every day. But I believe it will be valuable on many levels.