What is the guideline for choosing material for the shiur? - דעת - לימודי יהדות באור החסידות

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What is the guideline for choosing material for the shiur?

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The rule of thumb is to adapt the shiur material to the target audience we intend to teach. The lecturer should identify the type of audience being addressed, the audience’s capabilities openness to accepting your message. This information is used to adjust the level of the material so that it can be understood and properly grasped. Nonetheless, it is worth emphasizing an important issue that is sometimes ignored: experience teaches us that we can create an intimate and long-lasting connection with most people when the ideas being taught are profound and innovative.

All too often, those presenting Hassidic shiurs look for “vorts” – short, light ideas, stories, and so on – thinking that everyone should be able to connect with those ideas, and wouldn’t feel it is beyond their level. However, the truth is that plain and simple material may work for a one-time shiur, but when we want to create a long-term series of shiurs, we will need to take into account that there are certain types of individuals who are generally serious and have a high level of comprehension. They won’t continue attending the shiurs if they don’t feel that this material is profound and innovative.

Even if the first shiur was captivating, and even if the audience seemed to have enjoyed it, if they leave it feeling that they hadn’t taken in anything profound, but rather just some light material that they could have learned at home or read in a book, it is less likely that those people will come back for another shiur.

Even if you have a good sense of humor and you have managed to get a laugh out of your audience, or even “crack them up”, remember that the ultimate goal of this session was not to make people laugh or enjoy a few jokes. They have plenty of opportunities to do just that elsewhere. That isn’t why they came to a shiur in chassidus, which is supposed to speak to their inner selves and touch their souls. In just a short while, they will perceive the experience as superfluous and unimaginative.

However, if they see that the material is serious and profound, even if they don’t always understand or fully grasp your ideas (either because the speaker is ineffective, or because they are unable to grasp these concepts), you will challenge your audience to keep attending, especially if you’ve used a respectful approach, as mentioned earlier.

Undoubtedly, the more serious and profound your material, the more effort you’ll have to expend in preparing it, so that you’ll truly be able to deliver the shuir clearly and properly. Still, the principle is not to shy away from teaching chassidus with a profound approach, and include concepts and abstract ideas, even when teaching people who, at first, may seem quite removed.

The very depth of the material and your ability to explain abstract concepts are what will create a serious study framework for serious people.

In this context, it is worthwhile mentioning a sicha by the Rebbe during Simchas Torah of 5711 (as related in Toras Menachem Hisvaduyos, 5711, Part 1, pp. 40 until the end):

Apparently, people could claim that we should be calling on people to lay tefillin, keep Shabbos, and so on, instead of talking about chassidus, especially the more profound ideas within the realm of chassidus, such as the concept of the eternal worlds above the world of atzilus, describing the difference between bitul (selflessness) in the world of atzilus and bitul in the eternal worlds above atzilus. The revelation of chassidus, they continue, occurred so that we could attain love and reverence (as the Rambam wrote: ‘What is the way to loving and revering [Him]? By contemplating Him.’). This is how the Torah and the mitzvos will merit to rise up [to heaven], since “Torah devoid of love and reverence does not rise up [to heaven]”. How, then, is the revelation of chassidus connected to the situation in which we need to call on others and take action regarding the performance of Torah and the mitzvos?

We know what the saintly Rebbe Rashav of blessed memory wrote in his well-known letter, which was printed in the preface to the Kuntres Umaayan: “Now is the time of the last commentaries of the end of the galus…no, there is now a set order in how the tikkunim and berurim (commentaries) are made. In any case we must discuss everything, since we don’t know what is in the sod of the berurim.

Furthermore, although the revelation of Chassidus was designed to lead to love and reverence, Chassidus was not revealed to the generations of the rishonim (which were more closely associated with issues of love and reverence). It was “was concealed during their days, and was unknown to all of the talmidey chachamim, except for certain exceptional individuals.” That is, except for the recent generations, immediately before the coming of mashiach. There are two reasons for this:

1. Since the darkest of the dark prevail during recent generations, there is a need to illuminate and cancel out this great darkness through the greatest light of all.
2. The closer we approach the days of mashiach, when the inner nature of Torah is completely revealed, we need this kind of preparation through spreading the wellsprings outward.

From this, we can understand that with regard to our discussion as well, when faced with a destitute time and situation, and when we need to call on others and take action to perform Torah and mitzvos, this action needs to come about through studying chassidus as well. To the contrary – since the study of chassidus is tied to the idea of supreme teshuva (teshuva ila’a), it is how one can advance to a state and situation that is incomparable to the state and situation one was in previously.

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