18 Tishrei 5782 / Friday, September 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
 
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HomeHolidays and Fast DaysMenachem Av and ElulThe Cramming Syndrome
 
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The Cramming Syndrome    

The Cramming Syndrome



Richie and Susan had a fantastic spring semester, with plenty of time for tennis, golf and bike-riding; before they knew it, they faced a final exam in Organic Chemistry 202...

 



Karen and Richie were both physical education majors at the University of Maryland's College Park campus. Both were superb all-around athletes, each with a specialty: a remarkable gymnast, Karen was looking forward to a career in teaching while Richie aspired to be a top-level swimming and diving coach. They had much in common and planned to get married after graduating. Meanwhile, you'd always find them together, whether in the same classes or mostly enjoying outdoor and athletic activities. They played tennis and golf together and on weekends they'd go on long bike rides along the old Potomac River towpath near Seneca, Maryland.

 

Just as Karen and Richie loved the same things, they hated the same things. Their pet hate was Organic Chemistry 202. This was a required course for phys-ed majors just as it was required for pre-med students. There was no way around it. Karen and Richie could easily breeze through most of their studies, but there was no way to breeze through Organic Chem – you had to sit yourself down at a desk and learn, then learn, then learn some more. Were it not for this nemesis, their university days would have been play-school paradise, but alas, there's always a bump in the road...

 

Having cut most of their classes, the happy-go-lucky boyfriend and girlfriend decided that the bald-headed nerd who taught Organic Chem couldn't teach them anything that wasn't in the textbook; all the formulae and types of compounds seemed clear, no different than what the instructor was writing on the blackboard, so why sit in class on a balmy Maryland springtime afternoon, when you could be teeing off at one of the nicest campus golf courses on the East Coast?

 

The clock never stopped ticking; minutes, hours, days and weeks transpired until the ax suddenly hovered above their necks – final exams. They had only two weeks to prepare for Judgment Day in Organic Chem. That's when the talk about cramming started...

 

Karen and Richie didn't really open a book until 72 hours before the final exam. A 452-page text book in Organic Chemistry is quite different from a 452-page novel. It's not something  a person can sail through. Sometime, one can struggle with a single solitary page for a week. So, how do you cram 452 pages of ions, anions, carbonates, oxides, alcohols, phenols and carbides in three days?

 

First, you pull all-nighters.

 

You would think that phys-ed majors and fitness freaks don't do things that are detrimental to their health. Not so, if they're hit with the cramming syndrome…

 

How does one go for three days without sleeping? Phys-ed majors or not, you destroy your body and your brain with over-the-counter No-Doze pills and drink Turkish coffee and RedBull as if they were water. In short, you become a zombie with big black circles under your eyes and heart palpitations at the ripe old age of 21.

 

After the exam, the campus couple crashed, and it took a good two weeks for them to recover from the trauma they brought upon their bodies. Is it worth it? OK, even if they did pass the test (barely), they didn't retain a single thing of what they crammed. Consequently, the cramming added nothing to their education or personal development, except for enabling them to get their degrees.

 

* * *

 

Don't think that the cramming syndrome is only characteristic of university students like Karen and Richie.  Most Jews suffer from it too. All year long, they do what they like, forgetting that they too have a day of “final exams”, when the Heavenly Court examines a person's every deed, spoken word and thought for the entire year. This final exam is the annual judgment day, known as Rosh Hashana. This final exam is no joke – it's life and death, as we say in the Rosh Hashana liturgy, “Who by fire, who by flood, who by the sword, and who by a wild animal...”

 

How do we prepare for such a final exam? Who can possibly account for what they thought, said or did nine, six or even three months ago?

 

Fortunately, Hashem gave us the mitzva of teshuva, or penitence. We simply admit to Hashem what we did wrong, ask His forgiveness and pray for His help in improving ourselves. If teshuva is a "spiritual shower", then to maintain one's spiritual hygiene, he or she should assess themselves and rectify what needs correcting every single day.

 

Obviously, the best course of action is to devote an hour a day to personal prayer, when we examine everything we did in the last 24 hours and do our necessary teshuva. That way, there's no need for cramming the year's 365 days – which we can't possibly remember everything that requires correcting – into the few remaining days before Rosh Hashana. Yet, most people stall until the last week or the last three days. That's tough…

 

It's tough to cram in three days. Yet, Hashem knows that we're human, so He gives us a 29-day cramming period every year before Rosh Hashana – it's called the Month of Elul. Let's get to work!

 

 





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