Dear Rabbi Ross. My children were fascinated at the attention that the Siyum Hashas garnered. They were inspired as well, and my 7th grader who we’ll call Avi, decided he wants to “Do the Daf”. He doesn’t have great grades and I’m worried that the extra pressure is going to cause his grades to dip even lower. My husband is worried about something else entirely. He feels that our son will stop after a few months and doing the Daf should be a commitment. He feels that stopping shortly after will be teaching him the wrong lesson. On the other hand, it’s learning Torah. Isn’t this a good thing? What should we tell him? Please guide us so we don’t make a mistake.
Learning Daf Yomi is not a good thing. It’s a great thing. I’m not Chas V’Shalom taking away from your question, but that’s the beautiful thing about the Daf; it’s a unifier. There are Chassidim, Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Israeli and so many other types of Yiddin joining for this amazing initiative. The fact that your son was inspired is fantastic. Nevertheless, you and your husband both have understandable concerns, so let’s address them individually.
You’re worried that doing the Daf will cause your son’s grades to get worse, and you might be right. The real question is, what is the goal of Hebrew studies in 7th grade? If it’s to learn Torah, that’s exactly what the Daf is all about. If it’s to gain skills, then learning the Daf won’t help that much.
It seems that the prudent decision regarding your fears would be to set up some guidelines. These should be based on what you expect from him based on previous performance. If he’s a straight “B” student, he has to continue to get a “B” average. It’s unfair to expect him to maintain a higher average, since he’s doing something that’s ultimately beneficial. If a child wants a reward of some sort, it makes sense to push for higher grades. In this case, I think it’s a bad idea.
Your husband’s concern is also very valid. Children learn in many ways, and if they don’t follow through on their commitments, it can have negative ramifications. That being said, there are many variables here that we’re missing. First of all, even if he wants to stop learning after the first Mesechta, that means he’s making a Siyum on Mesechtas Brachos. Not too shabby!
Second of all, if it is getting too difficult, he can simply slow down. He can start doing an Amud a day instead of a Daf. Alternatively, he can listen to a Shiur about the Daf instead of actually doing it inside. In other words, he doesn’t need to quit. Lastly, he doesn’t need to make this into a commitment. He can start doing the Daf for 2 weeks and see how he is feeling afterward. This isn’t necessarily a seven-year commitment.
The one thing you neglected to mention in your e-mail, is how proud you must be of him. He’s a 7th-grade boy, and he was inspired to do something. One of the biggest issues I’m finding with this generation, is lack of a drive. Perhaps I’m a “Boomer” but I love when kids have that inner drive to succeed. Your son wants to act in a positive way, and you should be encouraging this behavior.
Here’s what I would say to your son. “Avi. We’re so proud of you that you want to join with thousands of other Yidden to learn Daf Yomi. It’s a sign of maturity that you want to be involved, and we are behind you 100%. There are a few things that we need to tell you before you begin. Although we’re super impressed that you want to do the Daf, we know that it requires time and focus. You’re still in Yeshiva, and we can’t let your grades suffer for any reason. Therefore, as long as your grades are consistent, we’ll continue to encourage you to keep up with the Daf. If, however, your grades start to slip, we’re going to ask you to put the Daf on hold until you can get back on track.
We also want you to realize that even if you only learn one Daf, we’ll be super proud of you. You’re not competing against anybody, because we’re all on the same team. If you feel that you want to stop at any time, there’s no shame in it. You can always start up again. No matter how much you do, we are so happy that you’re pushing yourself, and we’re very confident that you’ll complete Shas many times in your life.”
I would like to tell you one more thing. You seem awfully worried about making mistakes with your children. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you learn from them. Children are a lot more resilient than we think. I’ve seen parents make really big mistakes, but if they are more careful in the future, there won’t necessarily be repercussions. If letting your child learn the Daf is a mistake, it’s a great mistake to make.
Have a good Shabbos.
PS – Next week, I’ll be answering a similar question – this time regarding an 8th grade girl.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.