Rabbi Dolgin tells a great story

One evening – about two years ago, I was sitting down to dinner when I received an interesting phone call. “Reb Sender” the man said, “I am calling to express hakoras hatov to you – you saved my life”!

He went on to explain that his nine-year-old son had been acting up in Cheder, and he was advised by the menahel that his child was “the most difficult child I have seen in all my years of chinuch” and if there won’t be a drastic change in his performance and behavior, he will be asked to leave the Cheder.

“I didn’t know the source of my son’s problem and I was exasperated because I did not know where to turn” he said “but someone showed me a brochure describing the Shas Chabura method of learning and how it has changed the lives of many people. Well, Reb Sender, it has been nearly two years since that day and we have learned and chazered all of Seder Moed and half of Seder Nizikin. Now my son’s Rebbe calls regularly to compliment my son for being the best talmid in his class and for his ability to grasp new material and retain older material through chazara. It made me very proud”. “Furthermore” he said, “This seder has created such a strong emotional and physical bond between my son and I – one that could only be created through limud haTorah – and for all of this I thank you. It’s come to a point that my son refuses to go to bed every night until we have learned our prescribed quota. May the Ribino Shel Olam give you and your wonderful method siyata dishmaya to help others as you have helped me”.

I was humbled by his warm words and could only respond by thanking him and by telling him “Reb Yid, you don’t begin to understand what you have done for your child. Not only have you given him a feeling of accomplishment in his actions, but you have given him the greatest gift of all – the appreciation of Chazara. In addition he has acquired a skill that he will enjoy all of his life, one that many are never zocheh to achieve – the ability to set clear goals in their learning. I’ll tell you another thing, when one continuously chazars his learning – the different sugyos begin to come together causing an unbelievable amount of satisfaction. This brings a simchas hachayim and an areivos – a sweetness in his ahavas haTorah.“

As I hung up the phone on this father I couldn’t help but ask myself;

  • Where would this child be today if the hanhala had actually expelled the boy from their Cheder as planned or if his father didn’t think of this idea?
  • As mechanchim, are we giving the children entrusted in our care the tools they need to succeed in their learning and to become true talmidei chachamim?

What is chazara and why is it important? The gemara in brachos (5a) brings a machlokas whether if one is a talmid chacham must he say krias shema on his bed or not. Rashi defines the term “talmidchacham” in six words – shragil b’mishnaso lachzor al girsaso tamid – he is consistent in his studies to review them constantly. Rashi infers that a talmid chacham is a person who continuously chazars what he has learned to be familiar with it and not forget it. What does Rashi mean when he says that one must be familiar with his learning, and what does Rashi mean by constantly chazaring?

Perhaps a simple analogy will enlighten us. Imagine a person who is eager to wade into an ocean to search for treasures rumored to be in its depths. It would be futile to attempt to immediately plunge into the deep water to begin his search. Rather, on the first day – he will enter to allow his feet to familiarize themselves with the feel of the ocean water. Each subsequent day will find him wading a bit farther in the depths of the ocean – slowly building the stamina needed to succeed in his ambitious quest. Only after days and weeks of building upon what he did the day before, will he be capable to navigate the depths of the ocean. 

A person who is struggles to comprehend the intricacies of daf beis in any mesechta is analogous to the treasure hunter we’ve described above. For one, he lacks the basic background, knowledge and skills necessary to comprehend what is incorporated into the words of daf beis; and furthermore, until he has acquired a basic blueprint of the entire sugya – and that of other related sugyos in shas – it is virtually impossible to appreciate and comprehend the complex reasoning of the rishonim and achronim in the sugya. In this vein, Rashi is telling us that a talmid chacham is one who continually reviews everything he has learned in the past – as he goes on to amass new material. Of course, a person cannot understand the intricacies of the sugya on daf bais, but if he chazers daf bais as he learns daf gimmel and daf daled and daf heh – utilizing a clear and goal oriented review schedule – he will ultimately have a deep and comprehensive understanding of the entire mesechta – and eventually the entire shas.

Rashi – the Rebbe of all of klal yisroel – tells us another important yesod in Torah learning. The gemara in Shabbos (63a) says: ligmor, v’achar kach lisbor, one must complete (his learning) and afterwards explain it. Rashi explains this to mean ligros shmatse m’rabei – v’hadar ligros taime – he person must first learn the entire sugya from his Rebbe and only then go on to explain its’ intricacies. Rav Elchonan Wasserman (Kovetz Mamarim) testifies that when he learned through an entire mesachta – or at least learned from mishna to mishna with Rashi (and some Tosofos) MANY TIMES – before learning anything b’iyun – he met with tremendous success in his havona. And at those times that he was unable to learn this way – he did not merit the same success. Now, this seems to be a conundrum – how can one learn up an entire sugya before learning in any depth – when he is missing the basic essentials to understand what the gemara is saying? 

Once again we turn to Rashi for guidance. In the above-mentioned Rashi we noted that one must ligros shmatse m’rabei he must learn from his Rebbe. Our job as rebbeim and mechanchim is to give our talmidim a thorough understanding of the basic concepts and the shakla v’tarya of an entire sugya – before we attempt to expound upon them through the words of the rishonim and achronim. Only after the talmid is well versed in the sugya can he hope to be mephalpel and be medame milse l’milse. Imagine if each of our talmidim thoroughly understood the pushut pshat of the sugya before we attempted to teach him the Reb Akiva Eiger or the K’tzos. They would certainly end up with a complete havona of the sugya and love what they have learned. In fact, many bocurim and yungerleit constantly complain that they lack havona and enjoyment in their learning. Think of the long-term success and simchas hachayim these talmidim will enjoy for their entire lives – even after they leave the walls of the Yeshiva and/or Kollel – if they have the skills and method they need to learn, understand and retain their learning.

So, to answer the questions we asked above, Hashem yerachem, if the hanhala would have expelled that talmid, or his father had not heard about Shas Chabura – he would most likely have been lost in the downward spiral so prevalent among our youth today; and, yes, we mechanchim must arm ourselves and our talmidim with the tools they need to succeed in their learning – both during their tenure in Yeshivos and Kollelim and in the future. It is indeed up to us to teach our talmidim to have an organized and goal oriented method to succeed in their learning.