By: Yoel Yormark with Yaakov Dovid Kibel
Lack of proficiency in Chumash
Incredibly, a solution to these problems can be found in just four words: shnayim Mikra v’echad targum.
Five years ago, as I was preparing a Chumash worksheet for my fourth graders, I thought to myself: there must be a better way. Many of my students had difficulties with kriah and struggled in Chumash class. I was feeling frustrated. Class time was limited; it was simply impossible to have each student read aloud from the Chumash every day. Was there a solution?
Suddenly, it hit me: I had always been an average student. Why do I know Chumash so well? What had inspired my own enthusiasm for learning?
The answer was astonishingly simple—I have been reading shnayim Mikra since my bar mitzvah; some years later, I added Rashi. Reading Chumash week after week for decades has made me fluent in Chumash and Rashi.
At that moment, I decided to introduce a shnayim Mikra program to my students.
It has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.
My fourth-grade students began reading shnayim Mikra until rivi’i (no targum, no translating) each week. My sixth graders read shnayim Mikra until shishi, and with targum until sheini.
Over time, my students’ fluency improved dramatically and many were showing a lot more enthusiasm for learning Chumash. At first, I offered prizes and contests, but the program soon took on a life of its own—my students seem to actually enjoy reading Chumash. We found that simply reading the Chumash text is a remarkable motivator.
Parents tell me that their children now stay in shul for leining. They read along with the ba’al korei so that can fulfill their obligation to read shnyaim Mikra.
The Spiritual Power of Chumash
The gemara in Berachot states: “A person should always complete his [study of the parashah] with the congregation [by studying] shnayim Mikra v’echad targum, twice Torah (text) and once targum [translation]. Anyone who does this will have long days and years.” This is one of the few mitzvot where Chazal assure us longer life if we perform it.
The Levush notes that reading shnayim Mikra—which is an actual halachah—assists one in achieving fluency in Chumash, which subconsciously provides one with a deeper connection to Torah and mitzvot. Furthermore, studying Chumash instills in one a profound knowledge of halachah as well as deep hashkafot and major yesodot (which are embedded in every parashah). This is all achieved by simply reading Chumash—without translating or understanding. The Ramchal writes that reading Chumash out loud, even without understanding, has a powerful spiritual effect.
To me, the answers to some of the most pressing problems plaguing the chinch system is simple: shnayim Mikra. This program should be mandatory in every day school and yeshivah high school. If properly implemented, it could change students’ lives.
Rabbi Yoel Yormark is a fourth-grade rebbe for over twenty years, and currently the director of the resource room in South Bend Hebrew Day School in South Bend, Indiana. Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Kibel lives in Lakewood, New Jersey.
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