How to Become a Talmid Chochom

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Coming out of Shavuos, we renew our noblest aspirations to learn Torah with vigor, understanding, and simcha. How do we accomplish that in our learning Torah in a way that brings success, fulfillment, and the lasting rapture of “masikus” HaTorah?

There is a tried and proven way that has been yielding results worldwide.

Lakewood resident, Rabbi Sender Dolgin created and practices a system of reviewing and retaining one’s study, based on empirical research on how one can learn and remember, and savor what was learned through regular review. ”It’s like putting money in the bank every day,” he says. “There is no such thing as a bad day, Baruch HaShem.” “It’s like planting wheat in large fields that can yield a bountiful crop. But never harvesting it or putting money in a vault and never withdrawing, that’ s like learning without reviewing .”

It’s called simply, Shas Chabura.

Here is a summary of Rabbi Dolgin’s advice, which is based entirely on Rashi and Chazal. It can help anyone struggling with their Gemara learning to navigate a path of clarity and a life of unsurpassed fulfillment. [A detailed explanation of Rabbi Dolgin’s method of learning can be found at shaschabura.org.]

We start our day with מודה אני and אלקי נשמה, thanking Hashem for giving us back our neshamos and allowing us another day to serve Him.  Before we begin to praise Him for all of His kindness and before we ask Him for our daily needs, we say the ברכות התורה – the blessing on the mitzvah to be engaged in the study of Torah, followed by the blessing that begins with והערב נא that our learning should be sweet and pleasant for us, our children and the rest of the Jewish nation.

The Eglei Tal points out the importance that our learning experience be sweet and one of excitement and happiness, because otherwise it will be superficial and we will not be able to internalize our learning and allow it to penetrate into our neshamos, and we will lack the true success in this most important mitzvah.  On a practical level, this presents us with a number of challenges:

1) For many, when learning a daf of Gemara which frequently has unfamiliar topics, one will find his learning overwhelming either because of the difficult concepts or because of his lack of background information.

2) Even if one has the ability to understand the topic line by line, he will have much difficulty to keep track of the give and take of the sugya and will be unable to see the entire picture as one.

3) Even if he is capable of understanding the entire sugya by reviewing it many times, if his review is not constant, he will after a while forget his learning and will be one that “Plants but never harvests.” His frustration will not allow him to feel fulfillment in his learning in spite much effort and time he invested.

All these problems will deny a person a feeling of the inherent sweetness of the mitzvah and not allow him to experience the עריבות that he is praying for.

The Shas Chabura approach brings a new level to one’s learning.  The Gemara in Brachos (daf hey, amud aleph) mentions a halachah regarding a talmid chochom.  Rashi tells us that to become a talmid chacham one has to be רגיל במשנתו לחזור על גרסתו תמיד – that one needs to become familiar with his learning by constantly reviewing. We also express this idea every morning in our prayers with the words שתרגילנו בתורתך that we should become familiar with Your Torah.

An analogy would be for someone who is looking for a treasure in the bottom of the ocean.  He would be foolish to dive into the middle of the ocean without proper planning how he will be able to accomplish his goal.  Rather, he will seek advice and devise a long term plan and a short term plan how he is going to reach his goal. Each day he advances toward his goal and meets the challenges on his way to succeed in his objective.

Likewise, if one has a goal and mission to become a talmid chochom, it would be foolish on the first day to try to master all the material and spend days and weeks to try to gain clarity. Rather, he should learn the daf to familiarize himself with the material and although he might comprehend only 30% or even only 10%, that is success since tomorrow he will earn the next daf and then review the first day and will be able to add another 10% to his understanding, since he is not only reviewing the daf a second time, but he has another daf to connect to his learning.  Likewise, a week later, he will learn the new daf, review yesterday’s daf and then the first daf a third time and connect the first day to tseventh daf.  Similarly, he reviews the first daf after a month, after three months, and then once a year on the anniversary date of beginning the daf for the rest of his life.  This is what Rashi means לחזור על גרסתו תמיד when a person learns a new daf, he is on course to review it four times the first year and then once a year for the rest of his life.

[A Talmudo B’yado booklet is provided to keep track of his new learning and his review learning.  This is also available on an App for those that have this device.]

With each review, one will experience increased sweetness since a new point in the Gemara will become clearer, be it Rava’s question or two words in Rashi, or a verse in Yecheskel.  Eventually, all the pieces of Shas will come together and when he learns a Gemara he will ask the question of the Rishonim.  After going through the cycle the first time learning a daf a day and finishing Shas in eight years (with 25 off days for weddings, Bar mitzvahs, etc) or 16 years learning an Amud a day, he will be able in 3-4 hours a day to learn from Brachos to Niddah, 8 Blatt a day, 6 Blatt on Shabbos, 54 Blatt a week, and complete the entire Shas once a year.  If he is doing the Amud in 2 hours a day he will be able to complete the entire Shas once every two years.

Each time he finishes Shas, his clarity becomes greater and greater and the concept of forgetting one’s learning becomes obsolete.  This transforms a person both on a personal level as well as on a community level and he will be able to meet the challenges and difficulties of life and will constantly sing to Hashem for His endless kindness and goodness.  Most importantly, his neshama is on the derech to fulfill its potential to become a true talmid chochom.  He will merit Hashem’s blessings in parnassah, good health, and shidduchim and in all other areas of life by making a real and everlasting commitment in his learning.

However, because a Gemara can be very complex, there is another problem to overcome. It is common for a person to have difficulty understanding how the Gemara answers the question it poses.  Then when the Gemara asks another question on this answer, his difficulty increases due to his lack of clarity of the previous answer.  Incidentally, it could be that the Gemara will deal with this problem a daf later, but by that time, he will have long forgotten his question.

I would like to suggest a solution to this dilemma based on a Gemara found in Shabbos (63a).  The Gemara quotes a verse in Shir Hashirim:דגלו עלי אהבה: אלו שני תלמידי חכמים המדגילים זה את זה בהלכה

Rashi explains that this refers to two Torah scholars who come together to learn a Mesechta (tractate) and Hashem has love for them.  Rava adds two conditions:

1) They have a knowledge base in what they are learning,

2) That their Rebbe is not in town to teach them the simple understanding and background of the sugya.

In other words, the proper order to understand any Gemara is to first learn the basics from a Rebbe and then review it with a study partner.  I might add that after the students are well versed in the Gemara and Rishonim, if the Rebbe wishes to speak out a Rabbi Akiva Eiger to enhance their understanding of the sugya, he will be providing a derech for his students to become true talmidei chachamim and they will continue to grow in learning long after they leave the walls of the yeshiva.

Even if a person lacks a Rebbe to guide him to understand the sugya and eventually the entire Shas, our generation is blessed with Artscroll, Schottenstein, Mesivta, tapes and shiurim to guide us through the Gemara and with each review one gains greater clarity and comprehension of the sugya and eventually the entire Shas.

A study partner should be used only after one has a basic understanding from his Rebbe as outlined in the Gemara in Shabbos.  He should not try to figure out the Gemara for the first time, which leads one, on many occasions, to a very unproductive use of his time.

Again, Rabbi Dolgin emphasizes the importance of learning to become familiar, rather than trying to master the daf the first time.  One will then come to the realization that many of his difficulties come from a lack of knowledge from a different Gemara which will be clarified by going forward to increase his scope and by reviewing previously learned Gemaros.  In this way, his difficulties will be resolved and he will be on the road to become a true talmid chochom and will merit to become fortunate in this world and in the world to come.  Hatzlachah.

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עצות and Practical Suggestions

1. On How One Can Succeed In His Learning

By learning 2 hours a day, one can make a siyum on five Masechtos with many reviews.  In Seder Moed, the Mesechtos of Baitza-Taanis – Megillah- Moed Katan-Chagigah have 150 blatt or 300 Amudim, and  (allowing 65 days off for bar mitzvahs, weddings, Yamim tovim etc), one can accomplish this goal.  Every day one learns a new amud in 45 minutes to one hour using Artscroll (or another aid) to teach him the amud.  Every day he reviews what he learned yesterday, a week ago, a month ago, three months ago and then once a year.  The review should take between 15-20 minutes.

Remember this very important rule:

You are learning to become familiar with sugya and with each review you will be adding to your understanding.  Your review will not only help you to retain your past learning, but will allow you to build on your past learning, and with every review it will allow you to understand your original daf with greater clarity and depth.  In this way your geshmak will constantly grow as you are able to understand Rava’s answer or a verse in Yecheskel, for example.  After getting a familiarity is Shas, one will be able to go to level two and in two hours a day go from Brachos to Niddah learning 4 blatt a day (30 minutes a blatt) and complete the entire Shas once every two years, b’ezras Hashem, and thereby become a true talmid chochom.  Hatzlachah.

 

2. The Importance In Having A Balance Between Learning In Depth (Iyun) And Learning On A Simple Level (Bekius)

The mitzvah of Talmud Torah as pointed out by Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l is for every person to learn in his lifetime the entire Shas with great depth.  On a practical level, this poses a serious problem, as there are 2711 dafim in Shas, with each daf being endless, and one is given only 120 years to accomplish this goal.

I would like to suggest a solution to this problem by returning to the yeshiva system used in previous generations and advocated by the Gedolim of the past and present generation.

The first seder should be dedicated to learning at a slow pace in great depth according to one’s ability, and second seder should be dedicated to learning a daf a day, Gemara and Rashi (and Tosfos, where needed), with constant review.  In this way, when learning in depth, he will utilize his knowledge from his second seder learning and when he is learning simple peshat. In second seder, he will utilize his lomdus from first seder.  In eight years, he will have a solid knowledge of Shas and then can move on to Tur, Bais Yoseph and Shulchan Aruch to become a talmid chochom well versed in all areas of Shas.  Hatzlachah.

 

3. A New Approach To Learning The Daf Which Guarantees A Greater Satisfaction With Each Review

The Gemara (Yoma 29a) says: למגמר עתיקתא קשא מחדתא, to review a daf once learned is more difficult than learning it the first time.  Rashi explains that this is true if he learned it the first time and allowed sufficient time to forget it before he reviews it again.  At that point, his learning is not new, but he still remains with the precious difficulties and has little desire to review.  However, if his review is adding to his past understanding and by reviewing in a timely manner as outlined in the Shas Chabura Review program, he will find each review to be new and he will enjoy the reviews even more than his initial learning.  As he adds more clarity and depth with each review, he will thereby experience a newness every time he reviews the sugya.

 

4. The Benefit Of Reviewing The Daf Constantly After Increasing One’s Knowledge Base

For example, one reviews the daf the next day, then a week later, then a month later, then three months later, and then once a year for the rest of his life.

An analogy can be given to one who stands on the ground floor of a building and looks straight ahead—his vision will be limited.  If he goes to the third floor, his vision increases.  When he goes to the tenth floor, his vision increases to a greater extent.

Likewise, one who learns a daf and reviews it after learning another daf and then reviews it after learning 8 dafim and then after learning 38 dafim etc, will be able to comprehend more and more of the initial daf.  Eventually, by going forward and backward, all the pieces will come together.  When he learns any Gemara, he will automatically ask the question of the Rishonim and often he will be able to give their answer.  Having such an ability is the greatest satisfaction a person can have in this world.

[More advice and guidance can be found at the Shas Chabura website shaschabura.org.}

Now it’s easier than ever with an app designed by user and fan Yosef Belkin to make your learning stronger, accomplished and exhilarating.  Visit the Shas Chabura website, shaschabura.org and view the powerful video and details on everything you need to know to learn, review and remember.  Go to the website , call us at 732-447-4201 or 732-730-9496, try the app (for those who use those devices), but take the next step toward masikus Hatorah and becoming a true talmid chochom, b’ezras Hashem.

Peretz Baruch Eichler

Shas Chabura is endorsed by Gedolim worldwide including:

Rav Y. S. Elyashiv zt”l, yb”l

Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and

Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky

 

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