Tips For Writing Notes

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Ashrei Mi SheBa L'Kan, V'Talmudo B'Yado

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:8) makes a surprisingly ominous statement: Anyone who forgets a piece of Torah that he learned is K'ilu Mischayev B'Nafsho - as if he's liable to be put to death! While that of course doesn't mean every single one of us should be put to death for the masses of Torah we've alreay forgotten, it definitely illustrates the importance we're meant to assign to remembering what we learn. The Mishna then adds a corollary: this doesn't apply if the forgetting is caused by Ones, rather than neglect, which should yield a sigh of relief. How many of us have ever actively decided a piece of Torah wasn't important enough to justify taking up grey matter and consciously removed it from memory? But Rabbeinu Yonah puts us back on the hot seat: Since everyone knows that without proper Chazara, you will almost definitely forget what you learned, failing to review is considered intentional forgetting. In other words, writing notes and Chazara are important; 'nuff said.

    Use A Folder System

  • Keep everything as organized as possible. If you have a computer, make a folder named Torah. Inside, create folders for the different areas of Torah you’ll be writing notes on: Tanach, Halacha, Gemara, Machshava, Moadim/Holidays, etc. You can also make one labeled Speakers, if you attend or listen to a lot of Shiurim from different Rabbanim. An Audio folder could also be useful, holding downloaded Shiurim or recordings of Chaburot you’ve prepared and delivered. Each folder should have its own subfolders: Tanach should be divided into Torah, Nevi’im and Kesuvim, each with more subdivisions (Breishis, Shemos, Vayikra…), Gemara into Masechtos and so on.
  • Each Masechta in the Gemara folder should have two folders, one for Iyun and one for Bekius. Use the Iyun one for Shiur notes and Chaburot, and the Bekius one for noting interesting Gemaras and thought-provoking Aggadta’s. You can also keep a doc with notes on each Daf.

  • Descriptive Filenames

  • Make file names as descriptive as possible. When you’re looking for inspiration down the line, you’re not going to want to read through everything you’ve ever written on Pesach just because you decided to name everything “Pesach DT 1…2…3”.
  • You might be able to ‘tag’ files with specific keywords just by writing them in the header or end of the document. Searching your computer for that keyword will bring up all the documents that you tagged with that word or phrase. This makes it very easy to see what you've amassed on a specific topic with one easy search.

  • Random Mekoros, Quotes, Stories, etc

  • Create and update a Random Mekoros file with surprising, inspiring or useful Mekorot. You can make it more specific by making a few different ones that focus on different areas; I have one for Random Torah, one for Mishlei, and one for Tehillim. I also have a separate file for good quotes, both secular and Jewish. “The Brotherhood of Man is predicated on the Fatherhood of God,” one of my favorites, came from a college psychology textbook.

  • Outline Format

  • If possible, writing notes on a shiur in outline format helps you visually organize information. Writing in paragraphs, while easier in the moment, can lead to confusion when you try to understand what you were writing later. Whenever possible, read through your notes while the content is still fresh so you can clear up anything which isn't intelligible.
  • Parsha notes can be organized by Perek/Pasuk, or by Aliya.
  • For Halacha, bold the bottom line Psak to make it easier to skim and find what you’re looking for. R' Yehuda Turetsky (Shaalvim) suggests keeping 3 sections of notes from a daily Halacha Seder: What did I learn today that I think will come up often, what did I learn that was surprising to me, and what did I ask for a final psak on.

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