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Imagine for a moment that you were a farmer. You wake up at the crack of dawn each morning, put on your overalls (obviously), and spend the entire day working on your field. First comes weeks of prep: making sure the ground is loose and moist, protected from scavengers, and finally plowing it in long, straight rows which will accept the seeds. Then you start planting: placing each seed in its own section of the furrow, covering it up with dirt, irrigating the field, and chasing away whichever animals and birds try to dig up the seeds. Once things start to grow, you have to redouble your efforts protecting the tender shoots, as well as pruning wherever necessary so they have space to continue growing. Finally, after months of hard work, you have an abundance of crops fully grown, waiting for you to have at them with your sickle and scythe, literally reaping the fruits of your labor.
Can you imagine our protagonist, fed up and exhausted after the months of labor, deciding that he's skipping the harvest season this year? He'll take the summer off, maybe take a vacation to Colorado and do some summer skiing? While it sounds ludicrous, the Gemara in Sanhedrin 99a uses exactly this imagery to describe someone who learns but fails to review. Truly, after breaking your teeth and your head on a daf of Gemara, an intricate piece of Iyun, or a page of Mishna Berura, how can you not come back a second time to "harvest," and make sure its firmly in your pocket?!
Rav Yisrael Lipschitz, author of the Yachin U’Boaz commentary on Mishnayos, suggests a disturbing explanation for the failure of so many of us to review as needed. The Mishna in Avos 3:8 says that anyone who forgets even one thing that they learned should consider himself as liable of death! This is supported by the Pasuk from Devarim 4, Rak HiShamer Lecha…which warns us to avoid forgetting what happened at Har Sinai. Apparently, we’re instructed not just to remember the event, but the content as well. Finally, the Mishna allows for some leniency: if forgetting happens due to Tokfa Alav Mishnaso, the learning became too much to bear, that’s a different story. Rav Lipschitz explains why forgetting Torah is such a serious thing: Clearly, you don’t actually value the learning as something important; if you did, you would never allow yourself to be so lazy as to fail to review properly. Ouch! Failing to review, according to Rav Lipschitz and many other commentaries on the Mishna, is tantamount to actively choosing to remove the learning from your personal database! The Pasuk quoted adds another angle to the perspective: by connecting the issue to Nesinas HaTorah at Har Sinai, it reinforces Torah as our main, and in some sense only, access and connection point to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Forgetting what we learn indicates not just that the Torah isn’t important to us, but that the entire relationship isn’t important to us. If so, what use is our lives? “Ma'ale Alav HaKasuv K’ilu MIschayev B’Nafsho.”
Here are a few tips for Chazara:
- Your goal in reviewing is to make sure that you remember the content. Therefore, simply reading through a Daf, while valuable, doesn’t actually show that the content is safely stored away in your brain. Instead, after learning something, close the Sefer and see if you can repeat back the Shakla V'Tarya, the progression or main points of the Sugya, on your own. I’ll warn you – it can be very difficult, especially if you’re not used to it. Keep working at it, and you’ll get better over time. I once learned with a guy who was able to run through 10 daf Shakla v'tarya on Purim - V'Hameivin Yayin!
- when possible, build Chazara into the Seder itself. For example, before beginning new content each day, take a few minutes to run through what you did last time. That reminds you of what’s going on in the upcoming Sugya, but also gives you another chance to review yesterday’s material. R' Chiya Bar Abba actually used this strategy with his son, according to Kiddushin 30a. This is particularly powerful when combined with the previous tip, because of the break since you last saw the material. The harder you have to work to bring content back to the front of your mind, the stronger it gets embedded in your memory banks.
- Tehillim 119 can be described as an ode to Torah study. All 176 Pesukim discuss some aspect of learning. One idea stands out for me in the context of reviewing Torah: Mah Ahavti Torasecha – Kol HaYom Hi Sichasi (Pasuk 97). Dovid HaMelech suggests that if you want to remember your learning, make a point to talk about it as much as you can. Learned a new Halacha in Halacha Seder? Share it over breakfast. Saw a nice pshat during Shnayim Mikra? Share it before starting afternoon seder. Are you still thinking about a point Rav Dessler made in Michtav MeiEliyahu? Talk it over with your roommate before going to sleep. Besides for furthering your relationship with Torah by making it your topic of conversation throughout the day, formulating and presenting ideas are a very powerful way of helping yourself remember them.
- Writing notes helps on two levels. First of all, taking something that you learned and processing it to put it down on paper or laptop forces you to work through the information one more time. That process itself is another round of locking it into your brain. Second of all, once it’s down on paper, it becomes so much easier to quickly remind yourself of what you learned. One good method is to choose a couple of takeaways from each Seder and only write those down. This ensures that you’re not overwhelmed by too much information. By highlighting two pieces of information that you want to make sure you walk away with, it becomes much more practical to remember them. This is one of the tricks Zichru incorporates into their review program. They're incredible; definitely check them out.
- One of the many things I learned from my older Chavrusa when I was Shana Alef in Yeshiva was this Chazara trick: Almost every single page of Gemara has 4 lines of Rashi above the text itself, usually meeting 4 lines of Tosfos in the middle. Each time you learn through an Amud, mark off one of those spaces with a dot. Your goal is to mark off each space, signifying four rounds of review for each Amud. Getting to mark off another space after each round of Chazara, is for some reason, tremendously satisfying.
- While you’re learning, try to think of practical or real-life applications of the content. This works better in some areas than others, such as Halacha rather than many Sugyas in Gemara. It also works well during a Mussar seder or while learning Sifrei Hashkafa. If you can identify a scenario where what you just learned is relevant, it makes it that much more real in your head and sticks around longer. Plus, next time that scenario presents itself, it should remind you of the learning that you associated with it.
- As much as we hated the teachers who did this in high school, Chazara should ideally be cumulative. Your goal is to remember the material, not just the material you learned most recently! The good news is that after Chazering something just a few times, it no longer takes time to go through. If you review from the beginning of the Perek each time you start your afternoon Seder, you will quickly have the first few Dafim down pat, and more and more will be added as you continue learning. As long as you are consistent with your learning and Chazara, you can put together an incredible amount of Yedios.
Do you have other strategies that work for you? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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